WelCom October 2016:
Cardinal John Dew
The Year of Mercy continues to bring healing and graces into our lives. On the morning of Saturday 17 September I was deeply moved when members of the Samoan community in the Archdiocese of Wellington came to the Cathedral and asked for my forgiveness.
At the beginning of 2010 some members of the Archdiocese Samoan community had not agreed with my appointment of a Lay Pastoral leader to the Samoan Chaplaincy. One of the ways this disagreement was expressed was in February 2011 at a gathering in Wellington Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A statement addressed to me said: ‘The majority of Aulotu’ have decided they will leave the umbrella called the Matagaluega Samoa (Samoan Chaplaincy), which is under your jurisdiction/authority.’ Then there was a mass walk out from the Cathedral.
Last month those people came back and apologised. They expressed this in an IFOGA, a traditional and powerful way for Samoans to ask forgiveness of someone they have offended. To have this happen within the Year of Mercy was indeed moving. I was very aware of how significant this ceremony is as several men knelt under the Samoan fine mats waiting for me to lift them off and signify that I had accepted their apology to me.
Before that, the community had spoken to me through a spokesman saying they had three points they wanted to address that day. They were: 1. Reconciliation; 2. Leadership – not about my authority, but about the pastoral care of the Samoan community; and 3. The Ministry of the Catechists.
This meant I was able to speak too and address these matters. In doing so I was able to assure those gathered all I have ever wanted was the best for all ethnic communities within the Archdiocese. I was able to thank them for coming back to the Cathedral and I let them know I was very happy to meet with them. The assurance had already been given to me that ‘The group accepts they must work under your leadership.’
For everyone, this had been a very long, difficult and painful time. It is something I have prayed about every single day and asked God to help us find a solution, knowing many other people had prayed too. For those prayers I express deep gratitude.
In my response I had the opportunity to remind all that since this sad division we have a new Pope, a Pope who is giving us wonderful direction for the Church and how we are to go about the Church’s mission. A Pope who is always reminding us we are never at the centre – Jesus is. It is all about Jesus, His Gospel and His Church and His Mission. It is never just about what we want. Because if a Christian community – be it parish or any organisation – does not focus on Jesus, it soon begins to be all about itself. It begins to use others for its own convenience. Jesus’ gaze was always on God, and just as he referred everything to his Father, we are called to do the same as we try to follow his way.
This gathering gave me the opportunity to assure everyone I am willing to meet with them; that this would mean ALL of us meeting together; and that I am also very willing to meet with and talk about the role of the catechists who had walked away.
It is probably helpful for all WelCom readers – in whatever parish or community we belong – to think about the recent words of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia where he said, ‘No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed.’ I reminded those gathered in the cathedral it is the same with any parish, organisation, or chaplaincy, ‘None of us have dropped down from heaven perfectly formed.’ Patience is needed for all as we gradually make progress in learning how to love God and serve one another.
My prayer and my fervent hope is, as it has been for six years, that this meeting on a wet and miserable Saturday morning was actually a time of new beginnings and moving forward. For me to stand and witness people humbling themselves and kneeling in front of me asking for forgiveness was a remarkable experience. It was surely a grace of the Year of Mercy. Almost six years ago I cried tears of frustration and deep concern as to what was happening. Those tears were replaced with tears of emotion and relief that we were going to be able to move ahead in peace. Once I had lifted the ‘fine mats’ we processed through the Doors of Mercy, prayed in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, and came out the other side prepared and resolved to meet each other in a new way and to walk the way of Mercy.
Before this powerful and deeply moving ceremony I had said, ‘I am ready to fully accept your apology. I will also work with you, which actually means all of us working together. It will not be easy, because there have been serious divisions; it might mean starting with family to family, with aulotu to aulotu’. I then quoted an elderly aboriginal man who had said, ‘If there is a problem in the community there is a solution within the community.’ I also formally thanked everyone for their promised support and their prayers for me in my ministry as bishop of the diocese.