by Paul Traynor
Thirty-five years ago, in June, 1988, when the Passionist Family Groups were about to begin in Paeroa, the parish priest, Fr Phil Purcell, referred to Nathanial’s comment to Philip in Luke’s Gospel: “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Fr Purcell said, “such a remark may well be directed about Paeroa, when people are told that family groups had their beginning in New Zealand here, and then a few days later in East Coast Bays”.
Fr Purcell said, “as parish priest, I am very grateful for these groups and wish them well. Long may they be part of our parish life”. Well, at last, they have, and most of that is down to the committed team gathered around Charlie and Maggi Gribble, who are the longest- serving parish coordinators of the movement in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
What Charlie and Maggi thrive on is getting to know their people, making connections, listening to their stories, and being open to welcome anyone who comes into their community. Basically, they emulate the aims and goals of the movement, which are:
- share and celebrate life and faith
- support one another (especially in need)
- reach out to and include others
- build community/extended family
- show example to children
So, on June 10 we will be celebrating 35 years at St Mary’s Catholic church, Paeroa with Fr Brian Traynor, CP, celebrating with parish priest Fr Mark Field, and then on June 17 at St John the Baptist, East Coast Bays (Mairangi Bay) with Fr Traynor and parish priest Fr Emile Frische, MHM. Fr Traynor was present when PFGs began in both parishes. Both communities will be remembering all those who have been involved, those who have, and still do, continue to support the movement and the people who belong; those members and friends who have departed this life, and all those who contributed in such a major way over the years – too many to name!
Some people suggest that maybe Passionist Family Groups have had their day, with many cultural changes and the effects of Covid. Regular Church attendance has dropped in most places, and far fewer children attend than used to be the case. In a similar way, regular volunteering across the various sectors of our society has declined. Faced with this, I see the need as greater now than previously, so that people connect with each other and their families. Developing a sense that being family to one another brings an openness to embrace the call to be like Jesus. Passionist Family Groups help us to see God at work in the ordinary experiences of our lives.
Recently, two parishes relaunched Passionist Family Groups and, to the surprise of some, 70 families signed up to belong. This is hardly a sign that something has had its day! If belonging to the Church involves only saying prayers and having discussions, we will be likely to overlook the more urgent call of Jesus that we care for and support one another. As Fr Peter McGrath, CP, the PFGM founder said 50 years ago, “Passionist Family Groups don’t take away the pain and struggles of life, rather they help us to live as followers of Jesus Christ”.
- Paul Traynor, national coordinator Passionist Family Group Movement