by WIGA AUTET
Dominating the Makora Pa (the birthplace of Te Aupouri iwi) and overlooking the Whangape Harbour, St Gabriel’s church in Pawarenga in north Hokianga was impossible not to be noticed with its new golden cross on the high steeple, with its bright red roof reflecting the early morning sun and its immaculate white walls.

Students from Te Kura o Hata Maria in Pawarenga, accompanied by principal Maraea Pickering (right), with Fr Jun Peralta and Bob Pirini (at the back) in front of the main altar and the new te tukutuku panels inside St Gabriel’s church.
Students from Te Kura o Hata Maria in Pawarenga, accompanied by principal Maraea Pickering (right), with Fr Jun Peralta and Bob Pirini (at the back) in front of the main altar and the new te tukutuku panels inside St Gabriel’s church.

An amazing sight on a sunny Easter Sunday drawing the eyes, hearts and people to enter, rejoice and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and the “resurrection” of the newly refurbished church.

And so, the parishioners from Te Uri-o-Tai hapu of Te Rarawa, joined by many guests and visitors, had gathered on April 16 around their parish priest, Fr Jun Peralta, SVD (or Pa Anahera, as he’s called), local kaumatua, kuia and the elders to sing “Alleluia, to the risen Lord”, to participate in the re-dedication of St Gabriel’s and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist inside their whare karakia (church), which re-opened after many years of restoration works.

The celebrations started with a karanga at the gate, then the faithful — led by Fr Peralta and kaumatua Bob Pirini — processed into the church for the Mass.

Delightful acoustics filled the all-kauri walls inside the whare karakia as most himene (hymns) were gracefully led by the tamariki (children) from Pawarenga Catholic school, Te Kura o Hata Maria.

Three boys from the school skilfully assisted Fr Peralta as altar servers, while other tamariki read the intercessions of the prayers of the faithful. In his homily, Fr Peralta thanked all those involved in the long and complex restorative/upgrading works for their enthusiasm, commitment and perseverance. The result has been not “just” a beautifully renovated church but far, far more — a community of faithful enabled again to worship together in this splendid and historic whare karakia.

Thanks to the inspirational initiative of Frank Herbert (chairman of the Pawarenga Church Committee), the talent and skilled craftsmanship of weaver and main designer Mary Hill, assisted by Te Hemoata Henare and with the collaboration of some old and some very young weavers from Pawarenga (including students and staff from Hata Maria), from Panguru, from the Wharewaka/Tipene whanau from Auckland and Kaikohe, and even a Catholic visitor from Holland — the wall behind the altar has been beautified with two large tukutuku panels (traditional Maori ornamental weaving using reed latticework and intended mainly to adorn the inside walls of wharenui or meeting houses). The two large (almost 1x2m each) custom-designed and hand-woven panels are rich with patterns and meanings, which interlace the traditional Maori elements and symbols with the Christian features and values. Among many patterns one can notice St Gabriel’s whare karakia which was woven by Kim Campbell, and it’s cross created by the youngest weaver — a 3-year-old Zion Rollinson; while te Poutama (step-like pattern symbolising levels of attainment and the growth of a human, striving ever upwards) were weaved by Esta Proctor, Charlotte Whiu, Skylar Robson Proctor and Hone Morunga.

Fr Jun Peralta, SVD, and kaumatua Bob Pirini lead the procession of faithful into the St Gabriel’s church on Easter Sunday.
Fr Jun Peralta, SVD, and kaumatua Bob Pirini lead the procession of faithful into the St Gabriel’s church on Easter Sunday.

Fr Peralta, preaching on the Resurrection of Christ, had wished all gathered to “rise”, just like Jesus did, to a new life — the life of prayer, worship and fellowship. He prayed for the parishioners to be inspired by the risen Lord — present again in this beautifully “resurrected” sanctuary — and to fill this holy place with human presence, prayers and praise offered to God and brotherly love and service offered to one another.

After the Mass, there was a moving unveiling and blessing of the new headstone on the grave of Sr Mary Cyril Corbett, RSM. She arrived to Pawarenga in 1927 and was remembered as a very practical person, with a marvellous relationship with Maori. She came to speak the language well, was greatly loved and people turned to her for all sorts of help. She died in 1982 —after many years of dedicated work and service to the local community — and was buried in front of St Gabriel’s church. Two fellow Sisters of Mercy, Sr Marie and Sr Jacqui had made a special trip from Auckland to assist with the unveiling and to pray at her tomb.

The day concluded with traditional Maori hospitality at the nearby Taiao Marae.

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