Come here, give me a big hug
FAMILY comes first in Tonga.
So when Nettie Kerr, of Nimbin, received word some of her family members were coming to the Northern Rivers as part of the World Youth Day pilgrimage, there was no way she was going to miss meeting them.
Armed with a list of names, Mrs Kerr turned up at St Francis Xavier Church in Ballina and spoke in Tongan to a group of pilgrims, asking if anyone was from the Tongan town of Leimatua.
“I think it's a bit of a shock for them to be here because it's cold and everyone is white,” Mrs Kerr said.
“They were so excited to see someone from Tonga and they all turned around and pointed out my cousin.”
Yesterday it was time to meet a second cousin billeted with a family in the Lismore parish. Distance melted away as Mrs Kerr embraced Susana Fili yesterday.
Miss Fili is one of 120 pilgrims staying in the Lismore parish until Monday, when they will head off to Sydney for World Youth Day and an audience with the Pope. The pilgrims are among 2000 visiting the Lismore Diocese, which extends from Port Macquarie to Tweed Heads.
Hosting co-ordinator Julianne Cody said the pilgrims were initially shy with each other and stuck with their national groups.
“Before our first meal together you could have heard a pin drop. But once we started eating together people started to overcome that,” Mrs Cody said.
The people of Lismore have been feeding the pilgrims and their host families each night, bringing along dishes of food to a big mess hall set up at the Trinity Catholic College sports centre.
During their stay the pilgrims will be working at Lismore Soup Kitchen and St Vincent de Paul, visiting nursing homes and planting trees.
They will also get a glimpse of some native flora and fauna with visit Rocky Creek Dam and Knockrow Castle.