At age seven, the new auxiliary bishop of Auckland, Bishop Michael Gielen, already knew life was empty without Jesus.
In his thanksgiving speech at the end of his ordination Mass, Bishop Gielen recalled his struggles as a young boy and how having Jesus in his life made all the difference.
“I remember as a seven-year-old, standing on our farm and wondering what life was all about. I had asthma, chronic asthma all year. I had had two weeks of injections. I was struggling at school. And I remember an emptiness deep inside and a lack of meaning in my life,” he said.
“A year later, all that changed. We started going back to Mass as a family. It was like rivers, fresh springs of living water, flowing within us, slowly changing us. And as a little boy, I noticed it.”
These “fresh springs of water” carried him through to his ordination as auxiliary bishop on March 7, at the Vodafone Events Centre in south Auckland, with 3000 people at the ordination Mass.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn was brimming with joy at having an auxiliary bishop.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe was saddened at the loss of a good priest.
“The diocese of Hamilton is delighted for Bishop Michael, but it’s a sad loss for us. We wish him every blessing in his ministry up here. He’s been an awesome priest in Hamilton and we’re sure he’ll be an awesome bishop in Auckland,” Bishop Lowe said.
Bishop Gielen thanked his mum, Maureen, and dad, Deacon Henk Gielen and members of his “precious family” who had given him love and support. Deacon Gielen was the deacon at the ordination Mass.
Other bishops who were present at the ordination included Wellington Cardinal John Dew, Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley, Bishop Colin Campbell, Bishop Basil Meeking, Bishop Peter Cullinane, Bishop Owen Dolan, Bishop Denis Browne, as well as Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers.
Waka faith journey
Bishop Gielen likened his faith journey to that of a waka travelling on rivers.
“[My family] went further upriver, to the land flowing with milk and honey . . . and trees, Tokoroa,” he said to the laughter of the crowd.
“It is there I learned how to be a Christian. It is there I was taught how . . . to move from a lamb to one of God’s sheep. I was loved and encouraged,” he said in a more serious vein.
He said the church in Tokoroa was a simple, rectangular, 1950s church.
“It’s not until you go inside, and this is true of our Catholic faith as well, it’s not until you enter that you really experience the beauty of the Church,” he said.
He recalled having his first communion, confirmation and eventually, his priestly ordination at that church.
“I was ordained a priest there by Bishop Max Mariu, and if I’m correct, I was the only one ordained by Bishop Max Mariu,” he said. “Thank you, Bishop Denis (Browne), for making that possible.”
He served in parishes in the East Coast, Waikato, North Waikato and Raglan. “You formed me and carved me and beat me into the man that I’ve become today, into a shepherd. And I thank you for that, each of you,” he said.
He went to Rome for training and came back as formator for Holy Cross Seminary. “[I was . . .] to teach these seminarians, or to be formed by them or to form them. I’m never sure which way it goes,” he said.
Now, his waka is setting off for Auckland.
“I have good news. Whether you are seven or seventy, Jesus loves you. Jesus will never leave you alone. Jesus has amazing things in life for you, whatever your age is, if you trust him and ask him into your life, like my family did. It’s amazing what he can do when we say, ‘yes’. Thank you for your ‘yes’ and let us travel together in our waka wherever God leads us,” he said.
Just be yourself
Bishop Dunn, in his homily, gave the 48-year-old new bishop one piece of advice.
“Just be yourself. You don’t have to be a clone of anyone else. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’ God sees gifts he’s entrusted to you and all he asks, and you know this, is just to use them. Not with a spirit of timidity, but with a spirit of power, love and self-control,” Bishop Dunn said.
Speaking on the first and second readings chosen by Bishop Gielen for the ordination (Jeremiah 1:4-9 and 1 Timothy 1:6-14), Bishop Dunn noted how both the prophet Jeremiah and St Paul’s follower, Timothy, were young men.
“Jeremiah said, ‘I’m too young. I’m not qualified. There are other people better equipped. Haven’t got the right training.’ And God says, ‘just go. Get moving!’,” Bishop Dunn said. “I’m sure he said those words to Michael today. But he says them to all of us, too.”
Bishop Michael Gielen with students from St Joseph’s Catholic School, Pukekohe, after his ordination Mass.
Bishop Dunn said St Paul also told Timothy not to let people put him (Timothy) down because of his (Timothy’s) youth and lack of experience.
“He (St Paul) said, ‘Timothy, when I laid hands on you . . . which we say now to serve as a priest or a bishop . . . you didn’t receive a spirit of timidity. You received the spirit of power and love and self-control’,” Bishop Dunn said.
“(What) . . . Paul says to Timothy, he’s saying to Michael today . . . But he says it to us, too! When you were baptised, when you were confirmed, it wasn’t with a spirit of timidity. It was a spirit of power, love and self-control,” Bishop Dunn explained.
The Gospel reading, often called the Peter chapter, was about Jesus asking Peter if Peter loved him (Jesus).
“Jesus meets Peter and he (Jesus) doesn’t say, Peter, how could you screw up so much? Peter, what did you not understand? Peter, when will you ever learn to listen before you talk? He (Jesus) asks the only question that matters. He says, Peter, do you love me? Three times. Poor old Peter,” Bishop Dunn said.
“(Peter) . . . said, you know I do. And so, the fisherman is commissioned as a shepherd. Michael, we know that you love Jesus. I love your motto, Totus Tuus, all yours,” Bishop Dunn said. “We welcome you as a new bishop in the college of bishops. We certainly, I certainly, welcome you as a new bishop in Auckland.”
Deputy head of mission and first secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Wellington Msgr Edward Karaan read the papal bull at the ordination in the place of Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, who went into self-isolatation after a brief trip to Italy.
In the letter to Bishop Gielen, Pope Francis said he has given in to the request of Bishop Dunn to appoint “an auxiliary bishop in order to more fittingly provide for the pastoral needs of the community”.
“Dear son, it seems fitting that this office be entrusted to you, for the necessary strength of reason and character and skills in pastoral matters have clearly been observed in you,” the Pope wrote.
The Pope urged Bishop Gielen to serve the people eagerly and act faithfully in his (Bishop Gielen’s) new ministry.
Reactions from the people at the ordination Mass
Tony and Jan Baker, Mt Maunganui: “Amazing, a special man, very spiritual, atmosphere amazing! We left at 6:30am this morning, in a big bus with 36 people.”
(Left) Airini Turner, Herne Bay/ Ponsonby: “Breath-taking, amazing, awesome, all those adjectives. The decision to have it here was absolutely right. Like Bishop Pat, a peoples’ bishop.” Taumi Hau, Herne Bay/ Ponsonby: “The whole thing was very holy. It was best to have it here. He’s such a hard case — better suited here in Auckland. The mix of people that came — of all the ethnicities, from the little babies to the older babies.”
Josephine Bartley, Glen Innes/ Panmure: “Felt really, really special to me, once in a lifetime. It helped me relive [a] Catholic upbringing, sitting in a Catholic school again but it [was] not ‘like this’ sitting in Mass. I’ve never been [at] Mass with 3000 before, I love the acknowledgement of Māori Tangata Whenua, of Pasifika or Samoa and Tonga.