Bishop Steve Lowe of Hamilton diocese spoke of his heavy heart as he announced the sudden death of Pa Hemi Hekiera, SM, on February 5.

Pa Hemi Hekiera, SM
Pa Hemi Hekiera, SM

Pa Hemi was known as a nonintrusive priest who took the Church to the people where they were. He was a nuggety man, but a giant in joy and enthusiasm. Golf was his pastime. He worked in Whanganui and along the river between 1991 and 1997.
He is remembered for his efforts in putting into parish life the essence of Te Kaupapa mo te iwi Maori Katorika (the Maori Pastoral Care Plan), which was presented at the Wanganui Pastoral Deanery Meeting on Maungarongo Marae in Ohakune in 1993.
Pa Hemi understood the Pakeha fear of Maori tikanga (customs and traditions) and was the right person to lead and facilitate joint occasions, enabling barriers to come down.
Pa Hemi invited Pa Henare Tate, a specialist in Maori spirituality from the northern Hokianga, to Whanganui where he gave a weekend session on Te Rau Oriwa Marae next to St Mary’s Church.
Sixty people explored inculturation and what is truly meant to be God’s people, and to culturally express and celebrate the Church.
In 1996 more than 100 parishioners took part in the Korowai Mahau (the sheltering cloak) he ra pono (a day of faith).
This was an invitation from Maori people to Pakeha to explain and enter into Maori spirituality and their connection with the river, beginning at river’s edge at sunrise.
This included a walk through town to Te Rau Oriwa Marae for speeches, sharing, Mass in St Mary’s and lunch. Pa Hemi was thrilled with the response.
From that weekend came the inspiration to parallel the stages of the powhiri onto a marae with the stages of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Called He Kohinga Whakaaro (gathering of thoughts), He Korero Whakatau Whakaaro (laying out of themes), Pa Hemi encouraged the work and Pa Henare said it was a serious contribution towards inculturation.
An article about it was published in NZ Catholic in 1999. Pa Hemi was the last parish priest at St Joseph’s, Te Puna, in Hamilton diocese, before it became part of the Tauranga Moana Parish of St Thomas Aquinas.
Pa Hemi’s requiem Mass was celebrated at St Joseph’s Church in New Plymouth, presided by Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne and Bishop Steve Lowe, and Emeritus Bishop Owen Dolan and Bishop Charles Drennan of Palmerston North diocese.
Pa Hemi was buried at Parihaka in Taranaki, where he came from.