The Waka Aroha received a big boost last month with a decision to stay with worshipping in the church in a Māori way.
The Waka Aroha held its third hui of the year at Whakarongotai Marae, Waikanae, 9 to 11 November, with people from Hamilton, Taranaki, Palmerston North, Marlborough, Christchurch, Wellington and Invercargill.
After a round of sharing on Friday night, hui organiser, Pa Hemi Hekiera, said he felt the Waka had had a sign in one of the contributions to the korero of the previous night. Mandy Scanlan had told of how there had been just two Māori in her parish for a long time but recently the numbers had swelled to 10. Pa Hemi said he felt this was a sign for Māori to stay with the church even when in some parishes the numbers were very small. Slowly but surely they’re coming back into the church.
Kuia Morna Taute said people are obviously listening to Our Lady saying we should follow her son.
The hui included a number of people from other faiths including six or seven Ratana people who said they would return to Waka Aroha hui in the future.
The hui was dominated by the unveiling of the headstone of Robert Ngaia who died a year ago.
This 20-year anniversary hui at the Whakarongotai Marae was punctuated by tributes, both sorrowful and joyful, to Robert’s role in linking the parish and the marae and building up the Waka Aroha in the face of discouragement.
The hui started on Friday afternoon around 5.30. About 30 manuhiri or visitors gathered at the gate of the marae and waited in glorious sunshine to be called onto the marae.
Regular members rejoiced in the number of new faces. This signalled regeneration which was heartening for those who had been there since the start when Pa Hemi Hekiera, Fr Max Mariu, Fr Jack Smith, Fr David Gledhill, Fr Chris Martin, and Fr Phil Cody formed the Waka Aroha to look at Māori issues concerning the church.
After the powhiri and a sumptuous meal, Pa Hemi addressed the hui and gave the topics for discussion: How you feel about the church, World Youth Day and how to make the church more Māori. Friday evening was spent in the wharenui with each new member introducing themselves and many speaking of Robert and how he inspired them in their lives.
Saturday began with early morning Mass in the wharenui. Fr Phil Cody presided and placed on the altar the waka huia which Robert had brought to the Waka Aroha.
After breakfast discussion continued in the wharenui on the kaupapa or aims for the hui. Members from each region gathered and discussed their position on each of the topics. Some were pleased with the way their parishes were working with Māori and at the number of Māori who attended Mass regularly at their parish, some lamented the lack of Māori faces in the churches and lack of interest in church matters for Māori. It was difficult for Māori to be involved when they felt shut out, that there was nothing in the church for them.
One wry comment on how to make the church more Māori—‘shoot all the pakeha’—generated a great deal of energy and laughter from the hui.
Robert’s unveiling occurred at one o’clock and drew a large crowd including his family and many from Our Lady of Fatima parish. Many spoke of Robert’s vision for the Waka Aroha and how he used his humour to boost flagging spirits. He was always willing to drive people to hui around the country. Retiring chaplain, Sr Mina Metu’u, said he had given great service to the waka aroha and always offered to take her and Lexie to hui. She recalled a time when Pa Hemi was discouraged at flagging numbers at waka aroha hui and suggested closing down the Waka Aroha. Robert had encouraged him to keep going with the work of calling the hui and presiding over the Waka Aroha.
After each tribute, Henare with his guitar led a waiata.
Saturday evening waka aroha work continued with dramas to illustrate aspects of the previous conversations. Great talent and lots of humour helped to deepen some of the insights that had been shared. This was followed by a second sitting at the hangi meal which had been prepared for after the unveiling. Sunday morning Miha included a healing service and all were sent forth to live out of their own giftedness and truth. Then was the final meal and poroporoaki before the journey home. All went forth strengthened by the hospitality and experience of the weekend.