It was altogether fitting and appropriate that the last of a series of Masses celebrated in Auckland for the late Archbishop Alapati Lui Mata’eliga of Samoa-Apia should be celebrated on Good Shepherd Sunday.
That is what Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe told the congregation at the Carmelite monastery in Royal Oak, Auckland, on April 30.
The archbishop died at Auckland Hospital on April 25, a few days after arriving by air ambulance from Samoa. He was 70 years old.
In his homily at the April 30 Mass, Bishop Lowe said that people had come together to give “thanks in these days, for the generous and faithful way that Archbishop Alapati has been a shepherd to the people of Samoa, both in Samoa, but also beyond Samoa”.
In his introductory remarks, Bishop Lowe had noted that “Auckland is the biggest Samoan city in the world. So it is great that Archbishop Alapati is here to start his journey home to Samoa”.
The bishop said it was a privilege to be celebrating the Mass, and “on behalf of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Catholic community of Aotearoa New Zealand, we pass on our sympathy to the people of the Archdiocese of Samoa-Apia, but also to the Samoan community of Auckland”.
In his homily, Bishop Lowe confessed that he had never met Archbishop Alapati, and did not know a great deal about his life.
“In fact, none of us young bishops in New Zealand . . . have actually met Archbishop Alapati, and he is, in lots of ways, he is a bit of a mystery man to us,” Bishop Lowe said.
However, an online search produced a video of a Mass at which Auckland’s Tongan chaplain, Fr Line Folaumoeloa, shared that “they had studied in Rome, at the Biblicum – they were Scripture scholars”, Bishop Lowe said.
Archbishop Alapati was “a man of the Word. He loved the Word”.
Continuing on the theme of shepherding, Bishop Lowe said that “the task of a bishop [is] to lead the People of God in the wilderness of our age, because there are a lot of things in the world at the moment that want to destroy our faith, and our hope and our love. And the shepherd must be one who stands up to these dangers, faithfully proclaim the Word, give leadership in the face of challenges of governments, or a secular society. And Archbishop Alapati was not afraid of that. He was not afraid to speak out”.
During a constitutional crisis in Samoa in 2021, the archbishop took a strong stand calling for the proper, lawful transfer of power.
Bishop Lowe also noted that Archbishop Alapati was also a builder.
“And perhaps the cathedral in Apia will be the big testimony to him. It stands in Apia as a statement that the Church of God is here; that we stand proudly on Samoan soil, and that this is a witness to our faith.
”But a church is nothing without the Church that is the people. And that remains the challenge for us, doesn’t it? To be the Church of God. The people who stand firm – and confess our faith in Christ risen, and follow his way, live his life, and tell his truth.
“This is what your beloved archbishop did.”
Bishop Lowe also noted Archbishop Alapati’s love for the Divine Mercy devotion.
He died just a few weeks before the 5th World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) in Apia, on the theme “Divine Mercy: The Ocean of Love That Envelops the Whole World”. The congress is from May 21-26.
Bishop Lowe added that “May the Lord greet him [Archbishop Alapati] with a big Talofa Lava – give him a big hug – and give him a big Faafetai (thank you) for all he has done for God’s people”.
Samoan people who gathered to pay their last respects to their archbishop filled the Carmelite facility to overflowing. Many stood outside under umbrellas in the driving rain.
A large congregation also attended a Mass celebrated at St Joseph’s church in Grey Lynn the previous day.
Photo: An image of Archbishop Alapati Lui Mata’eliga displayed at St Joseph’s church, Grey Lynn on April 29