‘Let’s begin anew’

WelCom June/July 2021 Cardinal John’s homily below was delivered at the final Mass and closure of St Gerard’s Church, Mt Victoria, on Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 2021. On Easter Sunday…

WelCom June/July 2021

Cardinal John Dew Archbishop of Wellington Apostolic Administrator of Palmerston North Diocese

Cardinal John’s homily below was delivered at the final Mass and closure of St Gerard’s Church, Mt Victoria, on Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 2021.

On Easter Sunday the women thought they would find a body to anoint; they found an empty tomb. They went to mourn the dead; they heard a proclamation of life. They were afraid and amazed and probably confused when they saw that the huge stone at the tomb had rolled away. Inside they saw a young man in a white robe. 

It may be the same for us today – even on this Pentecost Sunday when we are gifted with the Spirit of Jesus. There might be for us – anxiety, concern for those who live at St Gerard’s and those who came here regularly to Mass. There must also be joy and gratitude when we think of the grace God has poured out on people in this church since 1908. For 113 years God has graced and gifted people in this church. 

“Jesus says, ‘Let’s start over from where we began. Let’s begin anew. I want you to be with me.’”

The words the women heard at the tomb are the same words spoken to us on this Pentecost Day; ‘Do not be afraid! You seek Jesus of Nazareth.’ The message is the same: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ 

The decision has been made to close St Gerard’s Church – that has not been easy. Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee; we will see him there. 

To go to Galilee means to begin anew. For the disciples it meant going back to where they first met Jesus, where he called them to follow him. Though they had been with him, they had not understood him, they misunderstood his words and in fear of the Jewish authorities they locked themselves away. Sometimes when a church or a parish closes, people give up, stop going to Mass. We cannot flee the Lord or lock ourselves away because St Gerard’s is closing. It is sad but it is not the end of our faith. 

Jesus constantly says to us: ‘Let’s start over from where we began. Let’s begin anew. I want you to be with me.’ When we go to Galilee, we learn to be amazed by his tender love and care, and with how God opens new ways for us when we are sad or in despair. God creates new paths for us when everything seems disastrous.

“…we go full of faith and confidence because we go in his power and with his grace.”

Cardinal John blesses the congregation in the packed St Gerard’s Church for the final Mass in the 113-year-old church. Photo: Rainer Hensel

The Easter and Pentecost message is it is always possible to begin anew. God always awakens new life in us despite what happens – including the closure of this church. God prepares a new history for us, and in what seems like deep darkness he invites us to begin anew and never lose hope.

Going to Galilee means setting out on new paths and walking away from the tomb. Today this church is the tomb we set out from as we find new paths to Galilee. 

Every day faith asks us – to be alive; to get back on the road. 

Every day we renew the amazement and wonder of our first encounter with Jesus.

Every day faith asks us to journey in trust, to trust that this is not the end, but to find something new and be surprised by God’s ways. 

As we go to we discover that God cannot be filed away among our memories but is alive and filled with surprises. We will meet Jesus elsewhere.

Jesus walks beside us each day, in every situation we experience, in every trial we endure, in our deepest hopes and dreams. He opens new doors when we least expect it, he urges us not to indulge in nostalgia for the past. If we feel that all is lost with the closure of St Gerard’s, we are asked to be open to amazement at the newness and surprises Jesus brings. 

Galilee is where Jesus began his mission. We still have a mission. Jesus brought his message to those struggling to live from day to day, the excluded, the vulnerable, the poor. He brought the face and presence of God to those who needed God in their lives. We do the same on the streets we travel every day, in our homes and workplaces. 

Today you may be experiencing a time of darkness; it might seem that the lights have gone out and dreams have been shattered. Open your heart with amazement to the message of Easter: ‘Do not be afraid, he has risen! He awaits you in Galilee.’ The Lord always goes ahead of you, he always walks before you. 

People have come here for years, since 1908. As they came, they also went out again to take the Good News of Jesus with them, they came here to be fed and nourished with the Word of God and the Eucharist, and for their mission of taking Jesus Christ to the world around us. As always, the purpose of being with Jesus is to go forth from Jesus in his power and with his grace.

Today is the last time we will go from here – we go full of faith and confidence because we go in his power and with his grace. 

Last Mass at St Gerard’s Church 

On Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 2021, Mass was celebrated for the last time in the church at St Gerard’s Monastery, on Mt Victoria, Wellington.

Cardinal John Dew celebrated the final Mass on behalf of the lay Catholic missionary group, the Institute for World Evangelisation-ICPE Mission in New Zealand.

The historic church was originally opened in 1908 by the Redemptorist order.

The ICPE Mission acquired St Gerard’s in 1993 from the Redemptorists. The community announced in April the closing of St Gerard’s church after a final Mass on Pentecost Sunday this year.

The church, built in 1908, is more earthquake-prone than the monastery, which was completed in 1932. The ICPE community made the difficult decision to close the church because it was only 25 per cent of the New Building Standards. The community has struggled to raise the $11 million needed to pay for the strengthening work.

Celebrating the Mass, Cardinal John Dew was joined by Fr Michael Bellizzi who has been working with the ICPE community.

The church was packed with people from all over the archdiocese and beyond, several of whom were visibly moved with memories and mixed emotions about the church.

Other clergy attending included Mons Jose Martinez Franco (secretary to the Apostolic Nuncio), Frs Neil Vaney, Patrick Bradford and John Rea SM. Br Frank Blewman and Fr Anthony Tran from the Redemptorist Order were also present.

At the end of Mass, Cardinal John and several priests led the ‘rite of leave taking’, a ceremony where final prayers are said at different parts of the church, such as baptismal font, the confessional and the altar.

Some of the sacred symbols, including the Paschal candle, the Lectionary and the Holy Oils, were taken in procession to the small community chapel in the monastery itself.

While the future of the building remains uncertain, the ICPE Community will continue to live in the monastery for the immediate future.