by Eljon Fitzgerald

The first Catholic missionaries to Aotearoa made the effort to learn the Māori language to enable them to preach the Gospel of Christ to Māori communities. 

The French and European Marist missionaries and priests learned the language and befriended Māori communities. Catholicism preached through te reo Māori connected culturally with iwi Māori.

The Latin Masses were translated into Māori and for decades throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries access to a Sunday Mass in te reo Māori was readily available in many communities.

Toward the end of the last century, and with the reduction in the numbers of Marist and Catholic priests with competency in te reo Māori, access to a Māori Mass became increasingly more difficult.

Today it is very rare indeed to find a Catholic Sunday Māori Mass in Aotearoa. Even the few communities that maintained a monthly Māori Mass have been
stripped of that “privilege”.

For many the loss of a Catholic Māori cultural connection through te reo Māori, has resulted in a huge reduction in the numbers of Māori attending Sunday Mass, and indeed practising their Catholic faith.

In his address at the Auckland Domain in 1986, Pope John Paul II declared that: “As you rightly treasure your culture, let the Gospel of Christ continue to penetrate and permeate it, confirming your sense of identity as a unique part of God’s household. . . . It is as Māori that the Lord calls you. It is as Māori that you belong to the Church, the one body of Christ”.

This year, Māori Language Week runs from September 11-17. Throughout the country, te reo Māori will be acknowledged.

In recent years New Zealanders throughout the country have actively supported te reo Māori during Māori language week. Television and radio broadcasts, primary school and preschools, communities and churches have all been pro-active in their support for Māori Language Week.

As a Māori and devout Catholic, I urge bishops from across Aotearoa to encourage the use of te reo Māori during Māori Language Week this September and where possible to provide a Māori Mass that confirms our Māori identity as a unique part of God’s household.

Eljon Fitzgerald is a former personal assistant to Bishop Cullinane in the Palmerston North diocese while a member of the Māori apostolate board between 1995-2010.

He now lives in the Far North and supports Catholic churches in Waitaruke and at Kerikeri. He still maintains a connection to the Palmerston North diocese and Te Whare Karakia o Hato Petera me Hato Paora at Kauwhata.