First Mass on NZ soil commemorated

11 Bishop Lowe plinth


More than 300 tangata whenua (locals) and manuhiri (guests) gathered at Totara Point in Hokianga on Sunday, January 12, to participate in a Mass commemorating the great and unique taonga (treasure) that a French-born Catholic bishop, Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, had brought with him to Hokianga and to Aotearoa 182 years ago — the gift of the sacraments and of the life-nourishing Eucharist, in particular.

Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe celebrated the anniversary Mass, with seven priests concelebrating (some from a close-by Panguru, some from far away Wellington).

In his homily, Bishop Lowe had borrowed the familiar and strongly significant image of the Hokianga living waters — with the tide coming in and going out from the harbour — as a symbol of “breaking waters” bringing forth a new life.

He spoke of baptism, not as a “one-moment event”, but as the living waters of an awa (river) that flows in us, constantly redefining who we really are; of growing “into” one’s name — “becoming who we are called to be”; of our
lives as a continuous “coming to birth in many ways and moments”.

Bishop Lowe said: “Just as the harbour needs to die/empty itself so that, with the new tide coming in, a new life is brought forth — so it is with our lives. The more we die to ourselves; the more Christ might fill us anew and make us who we are called to be as his people.”

Referring to the taonga of the Eucharist in every Catholic miha (Mass), Bishop Lowe had these words for everyone: “It is equally — if not more — important that each one of us is like a midwife — bringing to birth that life of Christ in ourselves, to bring it forth to our world. Our world needs to
hear the Word of Jesus Christ.

And that is only going to happen if the waters of our baptism are broken and we become more fully disciples of Jesus Christ and his witnesses in the world.”

The tradition to gather, remember and worship on that exact spot, where Bishop Pompallier had celebrated the first Mass in 1838, has been observed
annually, and the attendance has been growing steadily over the years, both in terms of the individuals participating and the regions being represented.

Bishop Stephen Lowe with others at the celebrations. Trying on the mitre is Ethan Iosefo Amoa.(Photo: Jacek Drecki)

This was stressed by Sr Magdalen Sheahan, DOLC, — one of the kaitiaki (guardians) of the place, when she said to Bishop Lowe: “Just because Bishop Pat now has an assistant, it doesn’t mean you don’t come back here again. This is a national event!” The sister was referring to Bishop-elect Michael Gielen.

Indeed, Hokianga has been known as the “cradle of the Hahi Katorika” (Catholic faith) with the local Māori seen as first katorika and devoted kaitiaki, however, Bishop Pompallier had brought this precious and life giving taonga for the whole of Aotearoa/ New Zealand.

After the Mass, people walked up the hill to the centennial plinth, where everyone was invited to remember in prayer those who had missioned to this land, those who made a significant impact on individuals’ personal journey of faith, and finally — to pray for those present, that they might become “people of abundance and life who take Jesus to the world”.

Bishop Lowe then sprinkled the plinth with the holy water and imparted a solemn blessing on all present.

Traditional Māori hospitality and fellowship followed, where old bonds were rekindled, and new friendships formed under the bright blue sky and on the banks of — “filled with a new tide and life” — the Hokianga Harbour.

— Wiga Autet is faith formation coordinator, Te Tai Tokerau.

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