New Zealand’s Legion of Mary leadership have brought home “lessons” fromSamoa which they could make use of in re-invigorating the organisation here.  Legion of Mary Senatus of New Zealand  president Mark Gasparini and spiritual director Fr Andrew Matthew visited the Pacific nation recently.

The legion in Samoa, along with Tonga and Niue, comes under the New Zealand legion’s governance, but Mr Gasparini said they have lost touch over the years.

He said the visit was meant to strengthen ties between the groups.

“It’s a funny thing, you know,” reflected Mr Gasparini. “A hundred years ago, it was New Zealand who took the faith to Samoa. And now, in a way, we went there to see what they are doing that’s so good and bring it back.”

He was impressed by the faith of the Samoans. “It is probably one of the few countries left that you can truly call a Christian country,” he said.

Devotion to Our Lady and the Divine Mercy is very strong.

Mr Gasparini said in Samoa, he observed people pack the church at a 5am Mass on a weekday. He said they don’t fit the Mass into their schedules. Their schedules revolve around the Mass.

“It’s just amazing that faith is so important in their lives. It’s like breathing. It’s their community. And that’s what we need to get here,” he said.

Mr Gasparini said faith is strong in Samoa because family and community are strong. Technology has not yet taken over their lives as it has here.

“There are more than 60 parish legion groups there – which is more than New Zealand and we are looking at a 190,000 people (in Samoa) compared to 4.5 million (in New Zealand).

“That just shows you that it’s very  strong,” he said.

He said there are 26 parish legions in Auckland.

Mr Gasparini said the legion is planning to speak in 15 parishes in Auckland, with a view to establishing groups.

Similar efforts are envisaged for Hamilton, Tauranga, Whangarei, Christchurch and Wellington parishes.

“The difficulty with the Legion of Mary at parishes is that you’d have to have the priest work with you. If he is interested and helpful, it will thrive and if he’s not, it’s a difficult road,” Mr Gasparini said.

He stressed although the priests would normally attend meetings as spiritual advisers, if a parish has an active Legion of Mary, the group will help lighten the parish priest’s day-to-day load.

In Samoa, he said, there are plenty of priests, deacons and catechists. Children aged six to 16 go to catechism classes twice a week.

In New Zealand, if there is a Legion of Mary in a parish, the group can run catechism classes, Mr Gasparini said.

“In the Legion, we now have a very strong catechism programme and at Te Atatu, we are teaching it because we have no Catholic school attached. A lot of children there go to state schools,” he said.

Apart from teaching catechism, the members of the legion visit the sick in the community. Te Atatu in west Auckland is Legion of Mary spiritual director Fr Matthew’s parish.

The Legion of Mary also “door knocks” in parishes ascertaining who are Catholics and re-igniting the faith of those who may have become “passive”.

Mr Gasparini stressed the Legion of Mary’s main purpose is to sanctify the member and secondly, for the member to sanctify the people around him or her.

“The legion is an apostolate and there isn’t a group in the Church quite like it. It’s obviously a lay group and we need clergy to direct us but it empowers the lay people to work for God,” he said.