Ethnic Chaplaincies Express Faith Through Food and Culture

The Croatian bbq in action.


The Ethnic Chaplaincies Annual Festival is a vibrant community heartbeat within Auckland diocese.

This special family event in October was a faithful reflection of the variety of cultures that form the Catholic community.

“This is the beauty of the Catholic Church. Diversity makes the Church alive, diversity in unity,” said Father Daniel Kalangara from the Syro Malankara Catholic community.

Over his shoulder as he spoke, Indian ladies from his home country stood selling their wares, which they made after hours from their work as nurses and IT professionals.

Their handmade decorated wall plaques, floral clocks and circular plaques embellished with beads and blooms of pink roses and purple hydrangea are now hanging in homes across the city.

“Look at the faces of the people here laughing and promoting their faith and culture, by exhibiting their own talents through food and arts created by family members who have worked together,” Fr Kalangara said.

Later in the day, the Malankara Catholic community were awarded the trophy for being the “best in show” there.

At Sancta Maria College in Flat Bush, there was a cornucopia of food, flags, handmade merchandise, bric-a-brac, and market day finds for sale.

Fourteen ethnic chaplaincies ranging from Croatia, Brazil, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, China, Sri Lanka, Philippines, India, Cook Islands, Indonesia, African Continent, Polish, to the Lets Pray Rosary group, had people at their decorative country-of-origin stalls, with many family members of all ages there in support.

No-one went home hungry. In one fono tent there was a stockpile of crab salad made in giant chilly bins ready ahead of the lunchtime rush.

In another, cassava cake, taho tapioca and tofu dessert, pork mince sisig and crackling, were sold by Filipino

                              The Filipino stand

families cheerily ringing handbells. Children gravitated to the popular portable sorbet cart parked up nearby. There were displays of photographs and destination information from their homeland.

Croatian men decked out in matching red and white checked caps and shirts manned their busy BBQ as the queues lined up.

A grandmother oversaw the deep fryer cooking plump round Fritule, Croation fritters – an Easter and Christmas favourite that tasted like balls of sweet cinnamon fried dough.

Nearby Soana Tonu from Mt Wellington parish, a true “Koka Ta’ovala” sat beside a table full of meticulously handmade items that she’d created with a group of dedicated artisans.

Rows of exquisite pretty lei jostled for attention alongside traditional Tongan ta’ovala, a mat that’s wrapped around the waist, and kafa, the braided rope that holds it up.

They’d spent more than a month making crafts for the big day. “This is for all of Auckland and our first time here ever. It’s a big occasion,” Tonu said.

Further down there was a table laden with pink Otai, a traditional watermelon and coconut drink paired with a side of Faikakai Tōpai, dumplings drizzled in sweet coconut syrup.

Youth ministry volunteers from NET (National Evangelisation Teams) and the diocesan ACYM team on duty were on a mission to distribute 1000 neon wristbands upon entry to the site.

It was hard not to miss another stall draped with the green, yellow and blue national flag of Brazil emblazoned “Ordem e Progresso” (order and progress), complete with a starry sky including the Southern Cross.

There, delicate South American wooden rosary beads were on sale alongside plates of half circle empanadas, ground beef esfirra savoury pies, creamy rice pudding, flame caramel, assorted cakes, and little chocolate hail dipped truffles – a popular traditional Brazilian birthday party treat.

While explaining that the typical Brazilian hotdog contains “the works” – packed with corn, onion, cheese, even other vegetables – Gislaine ‘Gisy’ Dassamani reflected on the wisdom that she shares with her children.

“I believe, especially for us, that we are missionaries, no matter where we go, no matter where we are in the world, in this school or anywhere; if you have a Jesus inside you, you are always going to be with him and be fine,” she said.

“You are always going to speak about him, so you’re never going to forget your roots no matter the challenge or delay. If you have Jesus, you will always have an answer and be able to step forward.”

Hanging gold-tasselled prayer lanterns swung in the breeze, while passersby indulged in red bean pudding and boxed moon cake from the Chinese Catholic community beside the busy coffee barista.

The choice of Santa Maria College was because it was the “ideal location,” said diocese organiser, Louisa Rani.

“It’s got the green courtyard and the auditorium because that’s the second part of today. We have the cultural shows starting from one o’clock. Then tomorrow we celebrate Sunday’s Mass right next door at St Luke’s church.”

The cultural performances in the auditorium were a kaleidoscopic showcase of cultural dance, singing and dynamic performances before a proud crowd, many filming on iPhones.

There were Croatian dancers and their eight-piece band, complete with a harmonica accordion. Malankara community dancers. dressed in flowing radiant sari, gracefully danced together.

Energetic performers from Thailand in feathered turtle masks with five giant pounding drums took the crowd by surprise, after entering the auditorium en masse from the back of the room.

Traditional Tongan dance

An intergenerational choir in red from Tonga sung about the rosary, after their young female dancers glistening in oil performed the Tauʻolunga, which is like the Hawai’ian hula.

Two sisters from Sri Lanka dressed in red and gold mirrored each other’s moves, in a traditional welcome dance to the sound of jingling bells on their feet.

A pulsing powerful drumbeat kept time for the large Kiribati community, as they connected the audience with Micronesian songs of home.

There was even a special nostalgic dance by the long-skirted Brazilians from the Amazon Forest region, embodying the spirit of the performances which was all about group engagement and feeling.

The Fijian Chairperson of the organising committee, James Kado, was delighted with the turnout.

He’d been working with one representative from each chaplaincy planning for all contingencies, regularly meeting on Zoom since June.

“It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate, not only the cultural festival, but in the Mass together tomorrow,” he said.

“Last year, our first festival was beautiful. Yes, while it’s in its early years – we’re building from here year on year.”

Rise Up and Shine was the theme for the 2023 Ethnic Chaplaincies Annual Festival. The date for the 2024 festival is September 28-29.


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  1. Dr.Cajetan Coelho says

    Entering the heart through the stomach is a time-tested practice among people of good will worldwide. The Sufis, the Sikhs, the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Jews, the Jains, the Parsis, the Taoists, people from traditional belief groups, and the Christians do it with enthusiasm, love, generosity, and magnanimity.