Thanks to the popularity of pilgrim ways such as El Camino de Santiago, there is a growing reawakening of the practice of pilgrimage. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have our own sacred sites and the possibility to journey to them in prayer.

Wiga Autet of the Auckland diocese Religious Education Team has compiled a pilgrimage outline. Over the weekend of May 21-22, she and seven fellow pilgrims followed Te Tai Tokerau Footsteps.

Pilgrims gathered at the Pompallier Diocesan Centre for prayer before heading north.

The first stop of pilgrimage was the majestic Tane Mahuta gatekeeper of Te Tai Tokeruau. In reflection and prayer pilgrims recognised: the presence of God in the beauty of our land, the suffering of the created world and the commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Aotearoa is a nation of migrants. At Omapere Heads we paused to recognise and acknowledge the symbolism of both Kupe’s and Bishop Pompallier’s entry to Hokianga, Aotearoa.

We joined the universal Church in praying the Angelus in the presence of Our Lady of the Highway before heading across the harbour to Totara Point, the site of the first Mass celebrated on New Zealand soil, by Bishop Pompallier. Standing on this sacred ground, we recalled all those earlier participants in bringing the Good News to our land.  Cleric and lay, Māori and Pākehā, past and present.

The journey to St Gabriel’s, Pawarenga, presented physical challenges. The rain and wind that had accompanied pilgrims throughout the day turned up their presence and power. As a result, part of the journey included leaving the van to remove a fallen tree from the road. The beautiful Stations of the Cross provided an opportunity to ponder the passion of Christ.

Looking through the Hata Maria Door of Mercy at St Mary’s Church, Motuti
Looking through the Hata Maria Door of Mercy at St Mary’s Church, Motuti.

Fighting cow traffic, the pilgrims headed to St Mary’s Church, Motuti, where they were warmly welcomed through the Hata Maria Door of Mercy. For many pilgrims this Mass and the raising of Bishop Pompallier’s coffin were highlights of the pilgrimage. Tired but satisfied pilgrims then headed for a simple pilgrim meal and their beds.

Morning Prayer was prayed at Our Lady of the Assumption, Motukaraka. In this church dedicated to the patron of Aotearoa, the early pilgrim people of this land were prayed for with gratitude.

The final stop was the National Shrine of St Peter Chanel, Russell. The locals welcomed the pilgrims. The intercessory prayer was for the Church local and universal, that it might continually work towards becoming a more effective sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God.

The Religious Education Team hopes to build on this pilgrimage experience so it is easily accessible. Eventually there will be an app so that even if people are not on a formal pilgrimage they might at significant sites learn more about our ancestors in faith, and our sacred sites, and pause, ponder and pray.