Bishop-elect of Palmerston North was in confessional when nuncio called

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Bishop-elect John Adams was sitting in a confessional when he first received a phone call that would eventually see him being told that Pope Francis was asking him to be Bishop of Palmerston North.

In a video message recorded during a recent visit to Palmerston North following the announcement in late June, Bishop-elect Adams explained that he was about to hear confessions one day, when he received a call from the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa. (The video was distributed with the Palmerston North diocese e-newletter Tūmanoko.).

The nuncio, “rather mysteriously”, told then-Fr Adams that he wanted to discuss education with him. Fr Adams was vicar for education in Christchurch diocese.

“And he [the nuncio] suggested that I might like to fly up to Wellington that afternoon, which was odd; I had a wedding, so I didn’t fly up that afternoon,” Bishop-elect Adams said.

“The very next day, Sunday, I flew up and, in the midst of our discussions about some education issues, he pulled out another folder and told me that the Holy Father was inviting me to be the next Bishop of Palmerston North.”

“There was a sharp intake of breath, when he said those words and, initially, I wondered what on earth was going on. But you know, very quickly, as we prayed together, I felt a sense that [I should] say yes and I did. . . .”

Bishop-elect Adams said that the invitation came as a shock, “because one never thinks one is worthy. That hasn’t changed, by the way”.


Asked on the video about his thoughts about moving to the North Island, Bishop-elect Adams said that he was “reasonably neutral” about it.

“I might have mentioned, I’m a geographer by first instinct,” Bishop-elect Adams said, having explained earlier that his degree from the University of Canterbury was in geography, “and as I was flying here today, I loved looking out the window, I love exploring, and I’m looking forward to heading into some of those back roads and small townships of the diocese, and coming to know this place.”

“I absolutely love the South Island. It is my home, I love the mountains, the great rivers, and the sea, but I know there is a wonderful world to explore up here, and I am absolutely looking forward to it.”

Asked if he had a message for the people of Palmerston North diocese, Bishop-elect Adams said that he was not sure of “the particular needs of this place”.

“But I do want to say that the Church is ever-ancient, and ever-new,” Bishop-elect Adams continued. “And we tend to be rather good at one side of that. We are either on about the ancient, or on about the new. I would like, during my time here, to see a way in which we might live out both of those things. There is a deep Catholic instinct to suggest both/and, rather than either/or. And I think the Church does itself or its people no favours when we choose one or the other.

“So, please, I come as a man of peace here. I come as a man interested in both ancient and new.”

But Bishop-elect Adams did express one particular desire — to “go deeply into the issue of parish renewal”.

“What are our parishes like?” he asked. “Are they vibrant places? Are they places where the faith is lived in a deep and ardent way? Are they schools of the spiritual life? Is there a strong desire to evangelise and take . . .you know, we are custodians of the greatest love story ever told? Are we taking it out to the people, and are they hearing it?”

“I think they are important issues,” he said, “and I hope to foster a great sense of parish renewal, if we can do that, during my time here.”


At the start of his message, Bishop-elect Adams shared some of his family background — how his mother had trained for five years to be an SMSM sister, before leaving and meeting her husband, who was a very proficient snooker player, and who had represented New Zealand at the sport.

The bishop-elect mentioned his hobbies and interests. He had sung in the Canterbury Opera chorus, and loves classical music.

“I sometimes go hunting with some guys who helicopter up onto the top of the Southern Alps, and we live in permanent snow for a week.

“I’m a mad, keen sportsman, I played top class table tennis, I played senior cricket, I love a game of golf. . . . “

Bishop-elect Adams said that he had been a priest for 20 years. “I am very happy, it is a beautiful life being a priest,” he said.

Noting that he was “thrilled” to be visiting Palmerston North, Bishop-elect Adams said that he couldn’t “wait to come and put down roots here, to start to live amongst the people here, to come to know and understand this diocese better”.

“Please pray for me in these couple of months of transition, and, yes, I can’t wait to be with you on a full-time basis, to be living the Gospel here with you.”

In a separate letter to the people of the diocese of Palmerston North, published on July 3, Bishop-elect Adams gave an assurance of his “desire to be a good and holy bishop, as we together work to make the person of Jesus Christ known and loved by the people of our region”.

In the letter, the bishop-elect stated: “I will take the opportunity to visit the parishes of our diocese as quickly as I can over the weeks and months following my ordination. During that time, I hope to spend as much time as possible listening to your experiences of the grace of God in your life, and the hopes and fears you have for the Church in our diocese.

“I also intend to take seriously the role of the episcopal ministry of sanctifying, teaching and governing the People of God. So that, to quote the Second Vatican Council, we might continue to become ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’.”

Photo: Bishop-elect John Adams on the video.

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Michael Otto

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