Groups with Fr Don at a gathering in Lower Hutt. Photos: Columbans NZ
A Maori proverb asks, ''What is the most important thing in the world?'' The answer is ''He tangata, he tangata,''- ''the people, the people.'' Perhaps in today's society and church we could amplify it to ''the community, the community.'' This was seen very clearly on the 6th of August 2022, when the Archdiocese of Wellington wisely invited leaders of the many ethnic groups of refugees and migrants to come together to share their experiences. It was pleasing to see people from countries where Columbans work, such as the Philippines, Myanmar, South America and Fiji. They joined others from India, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Samoa and Tokelau.
Fellowship and sharing of typical plates of food brought about a number of interesting conclusions.
Our Spanish speaking group realised that as the participants live at a distance from each other, they usually only come together for the Sunday Mass and the Christmas novena. We need other activities outside Mass, they said, where we can have more time together to get to know each other, share our joys and struggles and find ways to support each other. Six young couples jumped at the idea and have decided to meet next Saturday, the 20th of August, in the home of an Argentinian couple. Other couples anxious to participate are from Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Mexico and Spain. I think it will be the start of a great community.
Cardinal John Dew thanked all the ethnic groups present, saying that some parishes would be almost empty on Sundays if it were not for the many Filipinos, Indians from Kerala and Pacificans.
As a church, we are changing times, with fewer priests, the costs involved in earthquake strengthening and other expenses. Some parishes have been amalgamated, and others have been closed. But no one wants to go from an active parish to zero overnight. On the 6th of August, the answer was sitting in front of us. The ethnic groups can come together in a community to share the Word and to sing and pray in their own language. People are expected to drive to another church for Mass when a parish is closed down. When a priest cannot celebrate a Sunday Mass because of COVID, there is a frantic search for another priest to take his place.
''Community, community'' is surely the answer. With preparation for leaders and perhaps a booklet with various liturgy or Lectio Divina, a vibrant community can be formed, with a Eucharist when a priest is available. Such a system worked wonderfully in the Andes of Peru, where one priest might have 50 or more communities in the parish. A new reality demands new answers.
Columban Fr Donald Hornsey lives at St Columban's, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
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