by JOY COWLEY
Put together 18 pilgrims, a bus brimming with laughter, sun-blessed scenery, prayer, Catholic history and the newness of God, and you have the fourth of annual Road Retreats.
This one started with Mass at St Mary’s, Blenheim, ambled past scenery and seals along the Kaikoura coast to the Christchurch St Mary’s currently pro-Cathedral. Earthquake damage to this church was slight compared with other parts of the city.
Hush fell over the group as we stood in front of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, a reminder of the broken body of Christ, and that quiet continued as our driver took us through the inner city where damaged buildings are still propped up with towers of shipping containers.

The Road Retreat group outside the cob cottage of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop in Arrowtown.

Laughter returned with a visit to the Carmelite monastery. How could any of us feel down in the presence of such radiant happiness? Mother Dorothea and the sisters graciously talked with us for about an hour and, as we left, our bus driver, who is not a Catholic, remarked, “They are happy because they live in the now”. That was our text for the day!
Between Christchurch and Queenstown, we stopped at Lake Tekapo, the Church of the Good Shepherd, and in Cromwell for Mass at the Church of the Irish Martyrs. Ah, and what else would you be calling the Catholic church in Cromwell? The sun shone all the way, and evening prayer in the bar of the Tanoa Hotel was with a view of sunset over the lake. The sun rose again in a clear sky and we left for Arrowtown and Mary McKillop’s cottage, and then Mass at the fine new church in Wanaka.
We had clear views of God’s Word made mountains, made rivers, made forest, all the way to Franz Josef, with stops at historic churches: Our Lady of the Snows, Fox Glacier and Our Lady of the Alps, Franz Josef. On Thursday morning, Mass was at Our Lady of the Woods, Whataroa.
A hotel at Hokitika Beach held a pause in the journey, time to walk in the sand and reflect on maps and journeys, time for the sacrament of reconciliation with our priest, Fr Carl Telford. Since this was also the last day of the whitebaiting season, there are no prizes for guessing what we had for lunch.
Greymouth gave us time with Msgr Gerry O’Connor at the magnificent St Patrick’s Church and later, a visit to the history museum. At Charleston, Mrs Julie Hands was waiting with an afternoon tea that resembled a banquet, and there was more food waiting for us at Westport.
Rain came on Saturday. After Mass at St Canice’s, historian Norm Crawshaw gave a full history of the Westport area, with Powerpoint, and we left with feelings of awe and gratitude for early Catholics, clergy, religious and laity, who laid the foundations of the faith in difficult conditions.
On Sunday we finished in Nelson with Mother Aubert. Mass was at St Francis of Assisi Church in Stoke and, afterwards, Fr Maurice Carmody showed us an encyclopaedic volume that had involved five years of work — the cause for the beatification of Suzanne Aubert, which is being submitted to Rome. His talk was full of delightful anecdotes reminding us that a saint is someone who is fully human.
The seven days of travel were in the parenthesis of the morning and evening prayers of the Church, and our retreat director, Cenacle Sister Anne Powell, had also prepared materials and songs for reflection times on the bus. Fr Carl Telford, SM, celebrated Mass for us every day so Eucharist was always in the movement of the retreat. By the end of the week we had become family to each other, and it was hard saying goodbyes.
Both Sr Anne and Fr Carl will be with us on the next North Island Road Retreat, November 23-30, 2014. This will begin in the far north with Motuti and Bishop Pompallier, continue down the east coast and finish again with Suzanne Aubert at the Wellington Home of Compassion.
If anyone wants to find our more, they can contact patriciaparson@slingshot.co.nz or joycowley@xtra.co.nz

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