WelCom June/July 2023
Dr Mary Eastham is an active member of the Catholic community in Palmerston North supporting interfaith activities. Through this work she helped establish the Palmerston North Interfaith Group (PNIG) in 2011, comprised of members of different faiths, aimed at representing the different religious traditions and faiths in the community and to work together.
For more than a decade Mary was the Bishop of Palmerston North’s representative on the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Interfaith Relations. She is presently a member of the national Religious Diversity Centre.
In recognition of her services to interfaith communities, Mary was bestowed a Queen’s Service Medal on the King’s Birthday and Coronation Honours List 2023.
Mary readily shares the honour with those she has worked alongside. ‘This award recognises the wonderful work of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Committee in all six dioceses since 2009 and the great work achieved by the Palmerston North interfaith group since 2011,’ she said.
‘The award recognises how important interfaith dialogue is to building relationships of trust and friendship in our multi-ethnic and multi-faith society. It is such a privilege working with such great people engaged in very important work.’
Mary served as chair of PNIG from 2011 until 2022, holding multifaith prayer services at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit including a vigil in 2019 following the Christchurch terrorist attacks in 2019 and an anniversary vigil on the one-year anniversary of the attack. She coordinated a Faith Family Feast in 2019, a celebration amongst the interfaith community, and hosted youth sessions on global climate change and racism. She has represented PNIG at national interfaith forums, including at the 2020 Connecting Faith and Interfaith Communities in 2020, hosted by the former Office of Ethnic Communities. In 2022, a Religious Diversity Day in association with the Palmerston North City Council was held, where 300 trees were planted by members of the interfaith community. Mary has been a member of the Religious Diversity Centre since 2019.
The most important thing people can do is listen says Mary. ‘What is the most important thing to you, and why is it important? Listen. Because that’s how you eradicate fear through understanding.
‘When you don’t know somebody, that’s when you fear them. But once you know them, that’s when the labels drop.’
The Religious Diversity Centre is presenting a series of webinars, Building a Climate of Hope, with renowned guest speakers, beginning 14 June with Dr Jane Goodall, and concluding 5 with an episode led by the group’s patron Helen Clarke.