WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Cathedral Closure

WelCom August 2018:

A time for us to deepen our faith communities and to hear the Word of God

Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington

Cardinal John Dew.

On 7 April 2005 I was led to the Cathedral (Bishop’s Chair) in Sacred Heart Cathedral and installed as the 7th Archbishop of Wellington. Little did I know then, that just over 13 years later we would have to take the step of closing the Cathedral indefinitely to do remedial work to strengthen its roof area. This decision was announced on Friday 13 July 2018.

At this stage we have no idea as to what this work will cost us or how long it will take. It is hoped we will be able to do some work in the meantime that will stabilise the roof and then enable us to get back to using the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the Foyer, Connolly Hall and the Cathedral Courtyard. However, it will be some time before we are able to use the body of the Cathedral itself.

We had known for a few weeks that the report, from early May of this year, indicated the Cathedral was well below the NBS (New Building Standards). This knowledge led to the request for a peer review by another engineering firm. That was done and the result, which came back on 11 July, confirmed the rating was only 15 per cent. The rating meant the Cathedral posed a significant risk if there was an earthquake and so the decision was made to close it. This has come as a shock to many people as we all thought the work done during the 1980s, under Cardinal Williams’, meant we had a strong, secure and safe building. [However, since then there have been changes to the building codes.]

The day the Report came back, I was speaking at the Proclaim 2018 Conference in Australia [biennial conference organised and hosted by the National Centre for Evangelisation of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference]. At the Conference Mass on Thursday 12 July, I admired the Pectoral Cross worn by Bishop Kike Figaredo of Cambodia. His cross, replicated in the picture below, is called the ‘disabled Christ’. The suffering of the people in the part of Cambodia where Bishop Kike works is because so many people have lost limbs due to the presence of landmines. Bishop Kike spoke about how when one person who is a member of the Body of Christ is disabled there is something lacking in the body; he went on to talk about all those who care for and support these hundreds and hundreds of people and of how they respond and take part joyfully in the life of the Church.

Replica of Pectoral Cross, worn by Bishop Kike Figaredo of Cambodia, given to Cardinal John at the Proclaim Conference 2018, Brisbane.

All this was running through my mind when I received the news the Cathedral needed to be closed. My first thought was along the lines of the Cathedral itself being a part of the Body of Christ, and of how we will work together to restore it for our worship and our gatherings of our communities of faith. It is a building. A building built on an earthquake fault in an earthquake-prone country. We can repair a building, restore it and use it again. Those thousands of people – mostly young people – who have lost their limbs because of land mines, will never have the use of their own limbs again.

In 1898, when the first Cathedral on our current site was destroyed by fire, the local parishioners of Thorndon immediately came together. They prayed, they worked hard, planned, raised funds and within a short time had built what was known as the Basilica as their parish church. In 1983 Cardinal Tom Williams consecrated this present building as the Cathedral. We can do that again. Our Church is full of wonderfully generous and hard-working people; people who want to live as disciples of Jesus; and who want others to do the same.

“The Cathedral is a Category One Historic Place Building. Being classified as such means we are required to preserve it – we have no option in this.”

The Cathedral is a Category One Historic Place Building. Being classified as such means we are required to preserve it – we have no option in this. We are already being supported wonderfully well in prayer; many, many people have contacted me to say we are in their prayers. I know this spirit of prayerfulness and generosity will prevail, and we will be able to move ahead. I do ask WelCom readers to pray that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we reflect and discern just what has to be done for us to provide a safe Cathedral for all.

This is the time to remind ourselves of what our Cathedral is for and therefore an opportunity for us to deepen our understanding of:

  • how our Cathedral Church can make us more aware of God’s presence in our everyday lives;
  • how hearing God’s transforming Word might truly change our lives and send us forth to live out that Word;
  • what it means for us as a people to be built up, stone by stone, into that spiritual house, the living temple of the Lord.