On Sunday June 13, 2010, I travelled with 20 others from Challenge 2000 across the Rimutakas to celebrate with more than 200 people the 40th jubilee of Fr Eddie Condra’s ordination at St Mary’s Church, Carterton.
It was a day of amazing grace and, while we were there to honour Fr Eddie, for me there was so much more. The day was powerful witness to the churches of Carterton/Greytown as People of God. So moved was I that I came home, found my Vatican II documents and pondered once again the words of the dogmatic constitution on the church, Lumen Gentium. To the People of God in Carterton/Greytown I offer my heartfelt thanks.
There was a great sense of expectation, energy and unity of mind and heart as we waited for Mass to begin. It was as if babies, children, teenagers, women and men of every hue were collectively holding our breath in anticipation. I pondered the words of the banner hanging in the church – the mission statement of St Mary’s parish.
Led by the Spirit
We journey in love and hope
Creating and sharing a sense of home and family
Making visible the presence of Christ
A warm welcome broke the silence. Fr Eddie was called.
How moving to witness elders of the church anoint their priest, just as his bishop had done 40 years ago. They called him again to be a man of God, a follower of Jesus.
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for God has anointed me.
God has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.
And just as the people of his home parish in Limerick had done, family, friends and parishioners in Aotearoa prayed again for Fr Eddie. We sang the opening hymn and we wept with poignant joy at the enormity of life.
Prayer, reading, silence, reading, silence, homily, prayers of the faithful – the Liturgy of the Word gifted us with the tangible presence of God in the words of scripture and of a human being forever searching for God in his life.
Fr Eddie’s homily was moving testament to his own inner journey, his passion and compassion, his questions and his faith, his vision and his pain – a treasure shared on this special day and held carefully by those who heard. Again tears flowed freely.
Moments of silence after the readings and during the Eucharistic Prayer brought deep stillness and awareness of Christ’s presence among us as we prayed. Led by an accomplished music group the congregational singing was wholehearted. After Communion the children of St Mary’s School sang ‘May the road rise up to meet you’. Music can mirror the soul of a parish. During Mass we had sung The Spirit of the Lord, E Te Ariki, Mo Maria, Only a Shadow, The Irish Blessing. To finish with Love Changes Everything for me somehow mirrored the life of this parish and their priest, this People of God.
Then a powerpoint presentation traced part of the journey of Eddie’s life, from home and family to the seminary and through the courage, energy and enthusiasm of youthful commitment in Ireland and New Zealand to the warmth, compassion, wisdom and new courage of the Eddie we know today. For the third time that day I suspect there was not a dry eye in the church.
But wait – there’s more! Everyone was invited to the parish hall for dinner. To my astonishment tables were set for 220 people to sit down to a roast dinner! We were greeted by rainbow streamers hanging from the ceiling, huge wishes brightening the walls and leaves and flowers decorating pure white table cloths. Everyone was blown away by the thoughtfulness, the love. Stories and memories flowed around the old hall. After the main course, we heard moving messages from Eddie’s family in various parts of the world and speeches from those present – deep friendships, humour, family support, presence in times of joy and sorrow – baptisms, marriages, funerals – commitment to social justice, hospitality, respect for the dignity of everyone – all these aspects of Eddie’s life were honoured.
Last and best of all were the words of Eddie’s sister Miriam who had come from the United States for the occasion. Inspired by the liturgy and the love and appreciation shown to her brother, Miriam recognised the uniqueness of the parish. She offered words of understanding, hope and encouragement to her priest brother and to the people gathered. It was a profound moment.
More stories and memories were shared on the way back over the hill in the pouring rain. Kitty McKinley and Fr Eddie had started Challenge 2000 22 years ago and the organisation continues to touch all our lives. Love changes everything.