The suffering of the Irish at the hands of English colonisers was recalled in a 4 February Mass foreshadowing Waitangi Day as parishioners of St Joseph’s Church, New Plymouth, reflected on the twin notions of ‘people of this land’, the Māori – and those who came after. In the spirit of a dialogue between the Treaty and the gospel Cushla Low spoke of her Irish forebears’ sense of outrage at being rendered powerless and poverty-stricken in their own land.
Cushla’s reflection took the place of the usual priestly homily.
Māori arrived in Aotearoa by waka many centuries ago to become the first people of this land, and that waka heritage is deeply revered. Others would later take the long journey from many parts of the world, for a better life and brighter future in these islands.
Cushla acknowledged as a settler descendent she was, by comparison with Māori tikanga, unaware of her own waka. Sad, too, to acknowledge that one’s European forebears, far from settling in this land with an all-consuming desire to reverse the culture of injustice they had left behind – in fact became driven by their own desire for material acquisition, notably land. Thus erstwhile victims from the Old World seemed to – unwittingly or not – become part of the sort of colonial oppressiveness they had longed to escape.
The congregation were invited to recognise that at the heart of our reflection on the Treaty of Waitangi is the need for reconciliation. In conclusion, Cushla asked the tangata whenua, ‘As we embark on a journey of re-creating – what is it that you need to heal your heart? … because until your heart is healed, I – a woman of the People of the Treaty – can find no peace in mine’.
Cultural heritage is hugely important to any of us. Expression of our personhood is formed by cultural values, expectations, practices and heritage. The gathering was gently challenged in effect as to how can we justify a fierce protection of, say, our European morés, expecting them to ‘rule’ always, since our very European and other presence here in Aotearoa-New Zealand is derived from the Treaty of Waitangi, the expression of a relationship of justice between two peoples.
Above all the gospel imperative is entirely a statement of inclusiveness. Jesus would have no truck with a culture of dominance by the powerful, or failure to share by any who wished to be called followers of his.
Planning for the Mass was instigated and coordinated by Cushla Low and parish kuia Makere Wano, kaumatua Lindsay McLeod, North Taranaki Pastoral worker Susan Frykberg – with others’ enthusiastic support.
Henare Walmsley, Chairperson of Te Kahu o te Rangi of the Archdiocese of Wellington, provided a unique dimension with his skills on traditional Māori instruments. The proceedings commenced with the sonorous tones of the putatara, (shell conch). A karakia highlighted the Elevation followed by the whirring sound of the twirling purerehua at the remembrance of the dead, directed to the four corners, calling forth the presence of the spirits of ancestors.
These unexpected touches added a rich dimension to our parish’s mostly Euro-centred celebrations. Kaupapa Māori was incorporated into the greeting and conclusion and parts of the prayers of the faithful were voiced in Te Reo Māori.