Unity in diversity was the undoubted theme of the Multi-cultural Mass celebrated at St Teresa’s, Karori, on Sunday, 30 October.
About 500 people gathered in the parish church to celebrate the richness of a community encompassing many of the languages, races, cultures and skin colours of our world.
Clearly the common sharing in the gift of faith bequeathed to all by Jesus Christ brought such diverse cultures together: one baptism, one faith, one Lord.
Karori’s Parish Priest, Fr Tom O’Brien, was the principal celebrant with Fr Red Avendano (Filipino Chaplain) and Fr Ita Koloamatagi (Tongan Chaplain) concelebrating. Fr Avendano also gave the homily.
The music of the liturgy was led from five musical traditions and provided by the St Teresa’s School Kapa Haka Group (Māori welcome) along with the organ and parish choir, the folk music group, as well as choirs from the Tongan and Filipino communities.
Other elements of liturgical inculturation were introduced, such as the beautifully symbolic Samoan penitential rite, Ifoga, where a representative of the people kneels before the altar and is covered with a great woven mat symbolising the weight of sinfulness borne by weak humanity. The celebrant then lifts the mat from the penitent’s shoulders indicating God’s compassionate mercy lightening the burden of our guilt.
In addition, respect and honour due to the Word of God was highlighted by a Tongan ceremony in which the lectionary was brought into the church in a solemn procession and enthroned on the lectern.
In witnessing all this, one couldn’t help but recall Cardinal Tom Williams’ words in a report on the last Oceania Synod which Archbishop John Dew read to the recent assembly of bishops in Rome. In it, Cardinal Tom strongly supported the need for liturgy to be expressed in the cultures of local peoples and not to be dictated solely by European traditions. He noted wryly that some Vatican officialdom had raised their eyebrows when tattooed bare-chested Pacific ‘warriors’ had participated in the opening Mass of that synod!
The spread of participation in the Karori Mass was extended to the Prayers of the Faithful in which the petitions were read in Gilbertese, Dutch, Chinese, German, Malaysian and Indonesian, with English translations being projected on the overhead screen.
Members of the Indian, Iraqi and Filipino communities took up the collection and the gifts were brought to the altar by girls of Japanese descent dressed in colourful kimonos.
The diverse face of Catholicism in Karori was no better demonstrated than in the faces of communicants as they approached the sanctuary to receive the one Eucharistic Christ.
This cross-section of modern New Zealand society merging into the one Body of Christ was a great sign of hope.
It was also valuable exercise in appreciating and accepting the lives and cultures of other people and in helping those who took part to become agents of racial harmony and understanding in the wider community; in their places of work, in politics, in sport and in neighbourhoods.