Special ‘visitor’ at Totara Point

Fr Maliu ‘Otutaha with the Marian icon at Totara Point


It is a long-standing tradition that people gather at Totara Point in Hokianga on a Sunday closest to the January 13 to commemorate the anniversary of the first mass celebrated there by Bishop Pompallier on January 13, 1838. It was during that service that Bishop Pompallier consecrated his mission in Aotearoa to Mary under the title of Mary, Mother of God Assumed into Heaven, and his vast Pacific vicariate to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. 

Fr ‘Otutaha celebrates Mass at Totara Point on January 9

This year’s commemoration of that very special Mass was meant to be particularly exceptional and distinctive, as an extraordinary “visitor” was expected and awaited, the recently created Icon: Ko Hāta Maria, te Matua Wahine o te Atua (Holy Mary, Mother of God). This artwork, created by a New Zealand artist Damien Walker, had been commissioned last year by the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand to mark and celebrate the re-dedication of this country to the care and protection of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. The re-dedication and unveiling of the Icon took place in Wellington on August 15, 2021. Since then, the Icon has been travelling throughout Aotearoa as part of Te Hīkoi Wairua mo Te Ara a Maria, visiting parishes, churches and catholic schools in the South and now, in the North Island.

Another extraordinary experience was also planned to take place at this time, to allow for a spiritual enrichment, in a form of a “4-day pilgrimage” Ngā Tapuwae (Sacred Footsteps) offering visits to the significant for our faith places in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland). That pilgrimage would have concluded at Totara Point on January 9.  

But things have not gone exactly to plan, because of Covid-19. 

So some adjustments and changes were necessary – with sadness, but the Sacred Footsteps pilgrimage had to be cancelled/postponed; the Hikoi of the Icon – modified, interrupted and re-scheduled a number of times; and the usually well attended commemoration mass at Totara Point – transformed to a local celebration only. However, the very special and expected manuhiri (guest): the Icon of Holy Mary, Mother of God, was there for the occasion! 

A small but committed “crowd” of local parishioners (from Panguru, Motuti, Broadwood, and Pawarenga) with their parish priest, Fr Maliu ‘Otutaha, gathered on the Sunday morning at the site of the first Mass celebrated at Totara Point by Bishop Pompallier 184 years ago, and welcomed the Icon with a traditional karanga. The Mass which followed had a very distinctive wairua and praying together the re-dedication prayer at that very place where Bishop Pompallier had first dedicated Aotearoa to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, in the presence of the same/yet always different awa (Hokianga waters) and with a caring and loving presence of Ko Hāta Maria, te Matua Wahine o te Atua (Holy Mary, Mother of God) – have become an indelible and extraordinary experience for all present. Mary, Mother of God, Assumed into Heaven – pray for us!

Fr ‘Otutaha and people after the Mass.

After a traditional – though also very minimalistic – hospitality and kai, the Icon was taken to the St Peter’s church in Panguru, where stayed for a few days. A special Mass was celebrated there on the exact anniversary-day (January 13) before the artwork went on its way again, visiting communities and churches in Mitimiti, Pawarenga and Motukaraka, and then heading back to Auckland. 

At the conclusion of the nation-wide hikoi in August this year, the artwork will be permanently housed at St Marys of the Angels in Wellington. 

  • Wiga Autet is Faith Formation Coordinator for Northland, Catholic Diocese of Auckland 


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