Thirty French pilgrims visited New Zealand last month to renew links between the French church and Aotearoa/NZ. Catholic Māori and Pakeha welcomed them, remembering with gratitude the French origins of Catholic Christianity in New Zealand, particularly through the ministry of Bishop Pompallier, the Marist orders, Bishop Viard, and Mother Suzanne Aubert.
Cardinal-Archbishop Philippe Barbarin led the pilgrimage. The founders of the New Zealand church came from his Lyon diocese. Bishop Jean-Yves Riocreux of Pontoise was a co-leader. Bishop Pompallier was buried in Pontoise until his remains were returned to NZ in 2002.
At a mass for the pilgrims at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay on Thursday 13 July, Archbishop John Dew gave thanks for this French gift of the gospel to New Zealand, and pointed to the transmission of the Gospel message from St John the Divine via Polycarp of Smyrna to Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in the second century, and then onwards in due time to New Zealand with the Lyon Marists and to the Diocese of Wellington under Bishop Viard.
The pilgrimage is a high point in the gradual rediscovery by the Church in France of its forgotten earlier links with New Zealand. The Bishop of Pontoise first learned of St Peter Chanel and the Marist ministry in Oceania when he was a priest at Notre Dame Cathedral in Noum√¢ÀÜ≈°√É¬†a in the 1980s.
He was alerted to the importance of France for New Zealand Catholic history some seven years ago when Bishops Mariu and Dunn visited Bishop Pompallier’s grave in Pontoise in the north of the Paris region. It was through him that the Cardinal-Archbishop of Lyon has recently become interested in the special links between Lyon and New Zealand, and agreed to lead this pilgrimage.
Msgr Barbarin of Lyon admits that memory of Mother Aubert and the New Zealand Marists had faded in Lyon. But Lyon people do remember the great 19th-century laywoman, Pauline Jaricot, who founded the Soci√¢ÀÜ≈°√É¬†t√¢ÀÜ≈°√É¬† de la Propagation de la Foi. This lay-run missionary society was based on the shrine of Notre-Dame de Fourvi’res in Lyon, which inspired vocations and raised funds for the missions.
Earlier this year the Cardinal-Archbishop rededicated Pauline Jaricot’s former house in Lyon and her beatification cause is now underway. Memories are also strong in France of the over-300 priests and brothers whom the SPF sent in the mid-1800s from Lyon to parts of Africa, but the 50 or so who went to Oceania have been neglected.
This pilgrimage is a symbolic act to recover memory of the New Zealand mission, and of Mother Aubert whose call in 1859 to serve in New Zealand came out of the same vibrant spiritual background in Fourvi’res and the Lyon Archdiocese.
In Wellington pilgrims and hosts prayed in French and English at Mother Aubert’s grave, and then attended mass celebrated by Archbishop Dew with Bishop Riocreux, Cardinal-Archbishop Barbarin, and the Apostolic Nuncio.
Earlier the pilgrimage had visited sites in Hokianga, and Auckland, and the day before arriving in Wellington had experienced a storm-tossed jet-boat ride up the Whanganui river to Mother Aubert’s convent and chapel at Hiruharama [Jerusalem]. The pilgrims were weary but enthusiastic about their event-filled visit.
Cardinal Barbarin, who holds the ancient title in the French Church of ‘Primat des Gaules’, or Primate of France, has great hope for Catholic life in Lyon. Despite the gradual collapse of the missionary orders of the 19th century, he sees new life in the parishes, particularly involving young people.
He is committed to being ‘at home’ on Friday nights in his downtown primatial cathedral to meet anyone who calls in. He regularly celebrates mass at the end of the evening for up to 200 mostly young adults.