Created a cardinal at the age of 53, Soane Patita Paini Mafi was brought up in a traditional thatched home in Tonga. He has become an eloquent and forceful spokesman for the South Pacific’s many vulnerable communities threatened with devastation by climate change
On a Monday morning, Cardinal Mafi has just returned from Ha’apai, a group of some 50 islands about 200 kilometres north of Tongatapu, the largest island of Tonga, where he was born and where he now lives. He sits down in a colourful open-necked shirt and starts talking about the 30 young adults with whom he had been spending the weekend. Mostly, he tells me, he has just been listening.
Ha’apai is about as far from the marbled halls of Rome as it is possible to go. But, as Mafi explains, the young people he met are concerned with the same questions as their counterparts everywhere, especially about their future. When they ask about their role in the Church, Mafi says, they are really asking the question, “Who are we?” The difference is that for young people in the Pacific, the question “Who are we?” is intimately related to the fragility of the natural environment. As COP26 approaches, Mafi hopes the peoples of the Pacific will not be overlooked. The communities here are among the most vulnerable in the world. And Mafi is emerging as one of their most eloquent and indefatigable advocates.