by ROWENA OREJANA
Christchurch Bishop Barry Jones is concerned that the celebration of Mass in Te Reo Maori is slowly dying.
“We have a shortage of priests who can celebrate the Mass in Maori. From the very beginning, the Catholic Church here in New Zealand has had a Maori dimension. And we must not lose it,”
he said before Christmas.
Bishop Jones aired his concern at the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference meeting in November.
“The thing is, the Maori Mass has been the foundation of the Catholic Church in New Zealand. That’s why the priests came to New Zealand: to evangelise the Maori people, which they did. Bishop Pompallier did. And there are some communities that have had the Maori Mass going right back to Bishop Pompallier. Wouldn’t it be terrible if they lost it?” he said.
Bishop Jones said there are about eight Maori priests in New Zealand. All are in the North Island.
He believes he is the only one who can celebrate Mass in Maori in Christchurch.
He recalled that there is another priest who used to be able to do the same, but he is frail now and could not celebrate Mass any more for health reasons.
“We were talking at the bishop’s conference, and the bishops agree that it was highly desirable that the priests, all the priests, learn to celebrate the Maori Mass,” he said.
At the moment, he said, they are doing some work on the Maori language at Good Shepherd College.
Te Rūnanga o te Hāhi Katorika ki Aotearoa, the commission advising the bishops’ conference and individual bishops on all matters relating to the pastoral care of Catholic Maori, had been encouraging the bishops to tell their priests to, at the very least, learn the sign of the cross, the
greeting and the dismissal in Maori.
Te Runanga chair, Sr Tui Cadigan, RSM, said the Church would have problems if it loses the Mass in Maori.
“It is a desperate situation, one that is at a critical point. It won’t be just the loss of the language. It would mean Maori people will be very conspicuous by their absence in the Church, I think.
There’s no recognition of their existence there,” she said. She said even the basic signing of the cross in Maori has become hit and miss in most churches, even though the bishops had made that commitment in the mid-1990s.
“There is a little perception, I think, that asserts that if I look around and I don’t see any brown
faces in the church, then I won’t worry about it. That’s really not the commitment at all,” she said.
Sr Tui said she is in favour of training priests to celebrate Mass in Maori, but is a little doubtful
that it can be done. She pointed out that most of the priests are getting on in age and are not in the best of health.
She said some of the priests who have been “borrowed” from overseas seem capable of learning the language.
She noted that the Japanese seem to be able to pronounce Maori words better than Pakeha.
But the new priests should be able to say Mass in Maori. “This is a critical part of your role in this country, and the need for you to be able to lead the Mass and whatever it is you’re doing in this land. It’s a justice issue. This is the Church’s commitment,” she said.
Sr Tui said Maori, themselves, should encourage their young men to discern their vocation. She said Te Runanga has been holding their meetings in the Catholic Maori colleges, Hato Petera and Hato Paora, in the hopes of attracting young men to priesthood.
by ROWENA OREJANA