by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — The last few weeks were hectic for Black Fern Karina Penetito as she prepared for three rugby internationals against England, followed by her wedding to Auckland Blues winger and New Zealand sevens representative Sherwin Stowers.
Their wedding, on December 10, will be at Te Unga Waka Marae in Epsom, with Fr Mikaere Ryan, MHM, as principal celebrant. About 200 guests are expected.
Karina, 25, who was in the Black Ferns team that won the Women’s Rugby World Cup last year, was due back from England on December 6. One of the games she hoped to play in was at Twickenham, on the same day as the Australian Wallabies game against the Barbarians.
In preparation for her marriage, Karina made her first Reconciliation and First Communion at Te Unga Waka Marae in Epsom a few days before leaving for the United Kingdom.
A physical education teacher at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, Karina told NZ Catholic that making her First Communion is something she has wanted to do for a long time.
“Getting married to Sherwin, who has a strong Catholic family just like my own, he wanted a full nuptial wedding and to receive the bread and wine, and I really wanted to be part of that,” she said.
Karina, who is from Panguru in the Far North, admits to being a little nervous making her first Reconciliation, but it was worthwhile.
“There was a lot of heaviness weighing on me just around the wedding and family relationships, and I found it really, really helpful.
“Since then I’ve just kind of felt a lot closer to God. I’ve always had Sherwin to talk to, but now I’ve got God to talk to.
“We’ve started praying together, and I think that has really helped us. And we are learning at the same time, which is really good.”
Karina was pleased to have family and friends at her First Communion.
The couple paid tribute to Pa Ryan’s help in preparing them for marriage and Karina’s reception of the other sacraments, saying they have learned a lot.
Sherwin, also 25, and an old boy of De La Salle College in Mangere, said he is proud that his fiancée has taken these sacramental steps.
“I was lucky I did all of that while I was young.”
Sherwin wears a wristband with a cross during games and said it helps him draw inspiration during tough times on the field.
With other Blues players like All Blacks Jerome Kaino and Keven Mealamu, Sherwin attends a weekly prayer meeting when the team is away in South Africa or Australia.
“We pray to God, not only for us, but for our families back home,” Sherwin said.
The couple acknowledge their sporting commitments mean they have to find a balance with family life and to work hard to prioritise what really matters.
“It is quite difficult, but I have got Karina and, like we said, we have God to help us,” Sherwin said.
He added that his fiancée has done an “awesome job” organising their wedding.
But while she is in camp with the Black Ferns, Karina expects her mind will be on the game ahead, not on her wedding.
“Everything is sorted from the dress, to the venue, to the bands, to the food, to the families,” she said.
But she admits trying to coordinate work, the trip to the UK and wedding organisation all at once has been a little stressful.
When asked for a final word about her sacramental journey, Karina said she had overcome some misapprehensions.
“It’s not too late to get your Holy Communion. I always thought I’d have to line up with a whole heap of 11-year-olds. But no, Pa [Ryan] made me feel very comfortable. It’s not too late to form that relationship and receive God.
“That’s awesome, mate.”
— The Black Ferns lost the three-test series against England 2-0.
by MICHAEL OTTO