by ROWENA OREJANA
If Fr Donald Hornsey, SSC, had last year been asked if he would like to return to continue his mission in South America, the answer would have been an unequivocal “yes”.
But these days, Fr Hornsey is fired up with “a new mission in my own country”.
“You know, New Zealand is short of priests. So in many ways, returning to your home country is a way of showing
that we are all missionaries and that it is no longer necessary to go overseas to be a missionary,” he told NZ Catholic.
Fr Hornsey, who spent the past 40 years as a Columban missionary in Chile, Brazil and Peru, was asked by Cardinal
John Dew to help with Columbian refugees in Lower Hutt and Porirua. There are about 400 Columbian refugees in Wellington.
“Working with South Americans makes me very happy because I can speak to them in Spanish and have meetings and
visits with them,” he said. “I don’t like to say ‘working’, because it’s a joy for me.”
Fr Hornsey studied to be a diocesan priest, but later asked Auckland Archbishop James Liston to be allowed to leave
the diocese to become a missionary.
“I felt that I liked working with people of other cultures, and at that stage New Zealand seemed to have sufficient priests which, of course, it doesn’t now. Chile and Peru and Brazil didn’t have as many priests to cover all the needs,” he said.
He went on his first mission in 1975, after studying Spanish in a language school in Bolivia, in a parish in Santiago, Columbia.
Three years later, he was asked to set up a new mission in Arica, an area that borders Peru.
“That was a very wonderful experience to be in the centre of four poor poblaciones (towns) living close to people and buying everything in the markets and forming groups of youths … except that it was the time during the dictatorship of Pinochet,” he recalled.
He said, at the time, priests working with the poor were branded as communists. “There were very tense situations and we were involved in protests and things like that,” he said.
After seven years in Arica, Fr Hornsey volunteered when the Columbans decided to open a mission in Brazil.
Fr Hornsey worked in some rural areas in Bahia, Brazil, and it was there he experienced being jailed while he was prison chaplain.
“It was a set-up. The mother of a prisoner asked a Brazilian priest for some money to get a lawyer to get her son out of jail. And he (the Brazilian priest) didn’t have money. So she said, ‘I will get revenge on another priest’. She asked one of her sons to give me a package to take to another son (who was) in jail,” Fr Hornsey recounted.
The mother then tipped the person in charge of the prison to inspect Fr Hornsey’s package. The packet he was carrying had brandy and marijuana cigarettes.
“They (prison authorities) said I was taking drugs into the jail. I was asked to spend some time with my friends the prisoners. But I wasn’t there very long,” he said. “Because I knew all the prisoners, I was happy to spend some time with them.”
He spent 17 years in Brazil, until the Columbans decided to close the mission. He was then assigned to the Andes in Peru where he spent 12 years as director of evangelisation and catechesis.
He said coming back to New Zealand is “in a way, disappointing”.
“I certainly miss the people I worked with. They are very friendly. And they send me emails and we keep in touch,”
But, he said, while not overjoyed to be back, he is “content”.
“I am content to be rediscovering New Zealand and working with people from South America and maybe helping them
[by] being a bridge to New Zealand culture. [It is] a new mission in my own country,” he said.
by ROWENA OREJANA