by PATRICIA BROOKS
One hundred and seventy five years ago on the feast day of St Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Jean Baptist Francois Pompallier, Fr Philippe Viard, SM, Br Michel Columban and Maori catechist Romano sailed into Tauranga Harbour.

From left, Fr Edwin Macmac, Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop Steve Lowe and St Thomas Aquinas parish priest Fr Mark Field at Motuhoa Island, Bay of Plenty.
From left, Fr Edwin Macmac, Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop Steve Lowe and St Thomas Aquinas parish priest Fr Mark Field at Motuhoa Island, Bay of Plenty.

As Te Puna and Tauranga parishes have combined and are now known as the Parish of St Thomas Aquinas, it was fitting that a pilgrimage of parishioners took place to Motuhoa Island, nestled in the lee of Matakana Island in Tauranga Harbour and a place that Bishop Pompallier visited 175 years ago.
The pilgrimage was hosted by the Motuhoa whanau, and the Borell and Bidois families, whose ancestors welcomed Bishop Pompallier to Motuhoa Island in 1840.
Bishop Steve Lowe, like Pompallier, came by waka  (arranged by Kiritoha Tangitu) from the mainland and was welcomed ashore by a powhiri led by Huati and Colin Palmer from Tuwhiwhi Hapu, Matakana Island, the tangata whenua. Parishioners came across in a barge from Omokoroa and gathered on the lawn by the sea below Motuhoa Marae. 
The scene was not unlike that when Pompallier visited; the land, the sea, the sand and even the people were the same, only our clothing was different.
Small children played and swam in the sun while adults sought shade as they gathered for the celebration of Mass as happened 175 years earlier. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Steve Lowe, Bishop Charles Drennan, and Frs Mark Field and Edwin Macmac.
In his homily, Bishop Lowe said he came to bring Good News, the same Good News that Jesus Christ brought from heaven. The Apostle John shared the news with Polycarp, who became bishop of Smyrna, a town in modern Turkey. 
One who heard the Good News preached by Polycarp was Irenaeus, who became bishop of Lyon in France. Years later Pompallier, who was born in Lyon, brought the Good News to New Zealand. “This is the whakapapa of our faith.
“Our Christian faith is not a Pakeha faith, for it is a taonga, a treasure that comes from God,” the bishop said. 
“It is for all people.”
Bishop Lowe referred to crossing the harbour in the waka, saying he depended on those who paddled the waka for his safe arrival.
“We all have to be paddlers of the waka of the Church, otherwise the taonga of faith, the taonga from God, the taonga brought here from Pompallier, will die.”
During the Mass 14 babies and children were baptised and given Miraculous Medals, as Bishop Pompallier had given Miraculous Medals to those he baptised.
Bishop Pompallier later bought an eighty foot schooner that he renamed the Sancta Maria and had a large replica of the Miraculous Medal emblazoned on the sail. A picnic lunch was enjoyed by more than 200 pilgrims at Motuhoa Marae before they returned to the mainland by barge.

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