By JENNY McPHEE
Tema Colati has been on a long journey from being a “wild child” to becoming a “Bride of Christ”.
Ms Colati made her promises as a consecrated virgin at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Christchurch on May 14. Christchurch Bishop Michael Gielen presided at the celebration.
According to canon 604 in the Code of Canon Law, consecrated virgins express a “holy resolution of following Christ more closely, [and] are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, [and] are mystically betrothed to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church”.
A restored rite was promulgated in 1970.
According to the Christchurch diocese website, “The consecrated virgin receives the title of the Church, ‘Bride of Christ’, and she becomes a sacred person, but remains living in the world in the secular state, providing for her own living, and witnessing to God by her virginal life given exclusively to Jesus Christ, whose bride she is. She lives her vocation in her own way according to her discernment, as guided by her spiritual director and diocesan bishop.”
Ms Colati’s journey has taken her from Fiji to Christchurch, and it involved a real conversion experience.
She comes from a Catholic family of nine children in Fiji, and was raised by two “staunch Catholic” parents, who “were poor materially, but very rich in spirituality and love”.
But material hardship was one reason she struggled at school. She dropped out of education at age 15, and adopted a “wild” lifestyle of drinking, partying and boyfriends. But God was to take a hand.
“One particular night, while I was drunk and dancing at a night club in the midst of booming music, I heard a little European girl’s voice saying, ‘Where are you going?’ I literally turned around to see the child. I couldn’t see anyone, and then it dawned on me, that it may have been God,” Ms Colati said.
She responded, “God – you are coming to the wrong place, and the wrong person”.
But she heard the voice on a later occasion and it prompted her to reflect and ask hard questions – “Where am I going? What am I doing with my life?”
“I then found myself in tears, since I had been wasting my life.”
This was her conversion experience, and it eventually led her to join the Marist Sisters in 1993. She returned to her secondary schooling and became a primary teacher.
But a personal crisis saw her leave the congregation, and two months later she left Fiji. Nonetheless, she is forever grateful for her years with the sisters.
Nonetheless, she still knew in her heart that she had given her life to God.
“Six months after my arrival in Christchurch, at the pro-cathedral, I was drawn to a pamphlet of the consecrated virgins, and I felt the calling to be part of them,” Ms Colati said.
In 2013, through Fr Christopher Orr, she met Bernadette Chen, a consecrated virgin in Christchurch. (Another consecrated virgin in the diocese today is Monica Lee.)
“Due to the difficult waiting period, [for] obtaining residency in New Zealand, it took ten years for me to finally reach my consecration day,” Ms Colati said.
“All the learning and moulding that I have received during this time of waiting has been worth the struggle,” she said.
“From my experience, I realise that God’s timing is not our timing. God does not call the perfect, he equips those he chooses and calls. He continues to call you and I hear today as I heard in the night club, ‘Where are you going?’, ‘What are you doing with your life?’”
At the May 14 liturgy, Bishop Gielen thanked the Fijian people for Ms Colati.
The bishop said that our journey involves answering the big question, “Why are we here?”
Tema has found the answer, he said. “Because God has won my heart.”
Anyone interested in life as a consecrated virgin can contact their parish priest, vocations director or bishop’s office. More information is at ordovirginum.wordpress.com/contact/
Photo: Peter Fleming. Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.