‘It is as Maori that the Lord calls you, it is as Maori that you belong to the Church, the one body of Christ.’
These were the words of Pope St John Paul II on his visit to New Zealand in 1986. His words were powerful then and are powerful now because, in an increasingly secular society, they remind us we are all called, as we are, to be part of the Church.
Indeed, we – Pakeha, Pacific Islander, Maori people and more – are the Church. And in New Zealand, it was Maori who first heard the call.
It is because of this the Catholic Church in New Zealand has a uniquely Maori foundation.
But in almost 30 years since the great pope reminded us of that, I wonder how many priests and lay ministers take what he said into account.
In my own voluntary work in the Church, I have to remind people of the great pope’s words. Sometimes, it is almost a battle as they push back at attempts to ‘Maorify’ mass, a church event, or a committee.
Other times, people claim to be ignorant of things Maori and use that as an excuse not to bother. That is not good enough.
I acknowledge and respect efforts, such as the work that has been done on a Maori missal, and even smaller things such as priests beginning Mass with the sign of the cross in te reo Maori.
I know the bishops are trying to encourage more vocations to the priesthood and religious life among Maori, and we have just as much a role to play in that ourselves.
But without a culture shift in the Church, many Maori will continue to feel like outsiders and they will, as has been the case over the past decade, go elsewhere – think of the very Maori-friendly Destiny Church as an example.
The culture shift need not be a major revolution. There is goodwill among many Catholics. But what is needed is for Church leaders to approach the day-to-day business of the Church with a different lens. That is, a lens that is not exclusively ‘white’.
This shouldn’t be hard if people honour the foundations of the Church in New Zealand. The roots of the Catholic Church as an institution may well be firmly in some foreign land, where they don’t speak English or Maori, but leaders here should never forget our own unique history.
This is why I was delighted to attend the ordination to the diaconate of Danny Karatea-Goddard last month. What could have been a very foreign experience for the 600, mostly Maori, members of the congregation, was actually an uplifting bilingual and bicultural event.
What this highlighted to me is with a bit of effort priests and lay leaders, in partnership with the congregation, can make Mass a place where Maori feel at home.
The ordination Mass in Palmerston North was the result of hard work by all involved. Yes, you need to have Maori willing to step up just as much as you need priests and lay ministers with an open mind. Palmerston North’s Bishop Charles Drennan inherited a diocese from one of the strong supporters of Maori in the Catholic Church. Bishop Peter Cullinane is widely respected by Maori communities across the Diocese he led for 30 years and his successor showed a strong sign of continuing on with that spirit of leadership by making an effort to recite much of the ordination Mass in te reo Maori and delivering a homily with Maori themes throughout.
What happened in Palmerston North gives me hope because the whole experience was based on a different kind of thinking. It was not a one-size-fits-all, mono-cultural mass. It was a partnership with a specific community; something that needs to happen not just for special occasions such as an ordination Mass, but in the everyday life of the Church.
Honouring its roots will strengthen the Church we have today. And in the times ahead with critical social and environmental challenges before us, a strong Church is needed now more than ever.
Areti Metuamate is a council member of The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand and has served on Te Runanga o te Hahi Katorika ki Aotearoa and the National Committee for World Youth Day.