Seminarians from New Zealand’s national diocesan seminary went on a hikoi to Hamilton diocese to experience the New Zealand Church “in a more intimate way”.
Holy Cross Seminary formation director Fr Michael Gielen said the seminarians have been visiting one of New Zealand’s dioceses every other year to experience the different cultures, people and spirituality. One of the highlights of the Hamilton diocese trip was staying with families.
“We were billeted in different people’s houses,” Fr Gielen explained, “ . . . to experience the New Zealand Church in a more intimate way, rather than always looking at the big picture and looking at the big headlines.”
He said the hikoi is also a response to Pope Francis’ call in Evangelii Gaudium to bring the Church closer to the people.
Apart from Fr Gielen, seminary rector Fr Brendan Ward and spiritual director Fr Philip Billing accompanied the seminarians in their hikoi.
The group started the pilgrimage at Te Puna, where, at Poutu te Rangi Marae, they were given a powhiri (welcome) on February 12.
The following day, they went to St Thomas Aquinas parish in Tauranga and also visited Otumoetai Mission Site, where Bishop Pompallier celebrated one of the first Masses in New Zealand.
On Tuesday (February 14), the seminarians had a retreat at the Tyburn Monastery in Ngakuru. The retreat was led by Fr Billing.
Later, they were billeted in the homes of parishioners from the St Mary of the Cross MacKillop pastoral area in Rotorua.
“We stayed with the average Catholic (families) to find out how they’re experiencing the Church, how they live the Church, how they live the faith and what they want from their priest,” Fr Gielen said.
Apart from deepening the seminarians’ experience of the Church, the hikoi had another goal which was to attract young men to a vocation.
On Wednesday (February 15), the group went to four of the five colleges in Hamilton diocese: St John’s College and Sacred Heart Girls’ College in Hamilton, John Paul College in Rotorua, and Aquinas College in Tauranga.
“A big part of it is to share the good news of priesthood, share the beauty of priesthood and encourage other young men to consider the life as well. You’re broadening your attraction,” said Fr Gielen.
On the last day, the group went to Rangiaowhia historic site.
“The place is of special significance because a number of Catholic Maori people were involved in a war there. It was part of what they called the New Zealand wars,” Fr Gielen said.
The group concluded their trip with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was celebrated by Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe, and was followed by lunch at the bishop’s house.
The group from the seminary thanked the people from Hamilton diocese for the hospitality that had been shown.
The seminarians also asked the people to continue praying for them and their vocations.