Geoff Pryor and Sr Elizabeth Mary
Fr Alan Roberts stood to say his final Mass at St Theresa’s, Plimmerton. He opened by saying ‘at least I can say the church was full when I left!’ This set the tone for the farewell speeches and presentation at the end of Mass in which humorous and fond memories of the last eight years surfaced.
But after that the priest was not just left to drive off into the sunset. The parish council had agreed that Fr Alan should be accompanied to his new parish in Blenheim. A party of six parishioners had volunteered to accompany him but the newsletter invited others.
The six grew to 25 willing to make the intrepid journey across the Strait.
Fr Alan took with him a wakahuia or Māori treasure box as a gift from the Plimmerton parish. The good companions or, in Māori, te ope, were greeted by a karanga and the presentation of the gift was made with decorum.
Now let the reader step back from this and consider the significance of it all. In the first place the priest was regarded as a central part of the parish family. As such he was supported like any other family member whose time had come to leave. We accompany our kith and kin and friends at least as far as the departure lounge, do we not?
Next, the priest, now regarded as taonga, is presented to the new parish, and there is a bonding of parishes within the archdiocese.
Finally, the gift does not have to be a Māori artifact. There are innumerable alternatives such as other religious artifacts.
But if parishes are able to incorporate even some small part of Māori culture and symbolism, some expression of tino rangitiratanga, the Church enters into the true spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi. We literally walk the talk.
Meanwhile St Mary’s Blenheim was not only preparing for the arrival of Frs Alan Roberts and Lou Leuthard but for a change of a far greater hue. This parish had been run by the Society of Mary [Marists] priests and brothers for the previous 140 years.
The welcoming Mass on 12 February was celebrated by the last Marist parish priest Fr Rodney Smyth, Archbishop John Dew, Fr Lou and the two newcomers.
In his welcome, Archbishop John acknowledged the ‘huge contribution the Society of Mary had made in the previous years of pastoring in Marlborough’.
Now, he said, the diocesan priests would serve as worthy successors in this well established parish and pastoral area.
The support of parishioners would continue as generous and undenied.
In his homily Archbishop John spoke of being escorted into the future by a God who is love, that we stand at the gate of tomorrow facing the future; we are always companioned by a grace-full presence that holds us together and leads us on.
The music ministry group was at its best leading the singing during the liturgy and the local Tongan community were in full voice during the presentation of the gifts.
It was a celebration of joy and enthusiasm mixed with bittersweet memories of what had been.
Fr Rodney evoked Pope John Paul II when he looked ‘to the past with gratitude, to the future with confidence and to the present with enthusiasm’.