As the Caritas-sponsored pilot project on how Catholic parishes acquired their land, the story of the Korokoro Catholic Cemetery in Petone has now become better known. Because the cemetery had been closed in 1956 and the headstones removed, the passage of time meant that fewer and fewer people knew that the piece of land at the foot of the Korokoro hill is a cemetery and is therefore sacred land.
However, as a result of the project, we were reminded that the land had been gifted to the church by Te Atiawa chief Honiana Te Puni and that the once close relationship with local M%u0101ori had dissipated. It also reminded Sacred Heart parishioners of the need to be more vigilant in our guardianship of the cemetery and of the need to keep its history alive in the minds of the present generation of Petone residents.
The outcome of the research and discussions with local M%u0101ori led to Sacred Heart parish and the Petone hapu of Te Atiawa deciding on joint guardianship or kaitiakitanga of the cemetery. A service of healing, reconciliation and commitment at the cemetery in April 2004 marked the beginning of this new relationship.
Since that time, Sacred Heart and Te Atiawa have in partnership protected the interests and integrity of the cemetery. This is especially important at this time as the major upgrade of State Highway 2 is happening around the cemetery. It has been gratifying to see how seriously the contractors and all parties involved in the upgrade have taken the importance of respecting the cemetery.
Sunday 18 November marks the 120th anniversary of the death of Te Atiawa chief Wi Tako Ngatata-i-te-rangi and it is also Parihaka day, a day of huge importance to Te Atiawa. Wi Tako and members of his family are buried in the cemetery and their monument is currently being restored.
The service will also acknowledge those whose names are not recorded on the large cemetery memorial but which have been found by working through all the names in the early death registers of Sacred Heart and Ss Peter and Paul parishes.
A joint service led by Archbishop John Dew and Canon Wally Campbell will be held at the cemetery at 11.30am to bless the newly restored monument and the other remaining monuments. It will also, appropriately in the month of November, honour and give thanks for the lives of all those who lie buried in the cemetery.