Anne Powell rc
4 March 2013
What began as a week-long ‘Road Retreat’, a bus journey through the North Island, quickly grew into a journey of the heart.
Our group of 12 pilgrim-retreatants gathered at Paihia within the Gospel context of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24) and across the water from the Pompallier Mission at Russell.
We visited many sites of historical significance for Catholics in Aotearoa. We also visited particular landscapes and natural history venues which reminded us strongly that Creation is revelation.
Waipoua Forest revealed Tane Mahutu, growing before Christ was born, Waitomo Caves led us into the depths and silence of God, glow worms became ‘the light in the darkness’. Pukaka Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre near Eketehuna called us to respect and care for all of creation. Manukura, the centre’s rare white kiwi, reminded us of the uniqueness of each person.
God was here, before we ever were.
From the Hokianga, the ‘cradle of faith’, we made the pilgrimage to Motuti and the burial place of Bishop Pompallier. A night on Tamatea Marae was a joy and privilege. Everywhere we experienced warm and generous hospitality. Places and people we visited in Auckland, Waikato, the King Country, Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu, Wairarapa and Wellington each told stories of a continuing thread of faith sustained by lay people and the mobile presence of early, French Marist priests who travelled on foot or horseback through the country.
Alongside these shared stories of the thread of faith, we also heard the reality ‘now we can no longer rely on a resident priest’. A potent question emerged: How are we being called to live as Catholic Christians in Aotearoa now? How reliant on ‘accessible’ Eucharist have we become? What might our history invite us to? These are crucial questions for our time.
As we travelled through the North Island, prayer on the bus focused us for each day and invited us to awareness and reflection at the end of each day. We were blessed with wonderful, informed and passionate guides at places such as the Pompallier Mission Station; Te Ara Hou Social Services Village in Hamilton; Michael Smither’s Stations of the Cross sculpture in New Plymouth’s St Joseph’s church; the Josephite Archives and wet land at Whanganui; the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Palmerston North; the Magnificat Community in the Wairarapa; and the Suzanne Aubert Display Centre in Wellington.
On some occasions, we shared Eucharist with a local parish (a Sunday at the shrine of St Peter Chanel and an energetic Mass in Featherston). There were so many experiences of immense hospitality, belonging, singing, silence, eating, learning, depth of sharing and fun. Someone commented that it was a ‘ loaves and fishes time’ – there was always enough.
For each pilgrim/retreatant, the timing of this retreat seemed perfect. People spoke of needing time to reflect on what had been, to have some creative prayerful space, to let go of some things and move on, to resolve issues, or to celebrate a new turning point in life. Whatever the hopes and desires that we each carried with us as we set out from the Hokianga, we received grace in abundance from the lavishness of God and the love and generosity of our companions on the road and throughout our retreat journey.