The founder and chairperson of the Mother Teresa Interfaith Committee in Auckland, Wenceslaus Anthony, MNZM, has received the highest papal medal that can be received by a lay person.

On May 21, at a packed St Mary’s church in Avondale, Mr Anthony was presented with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal (For Church and Pope) by Auckland vicar-general Msgr Bernard Kiely.

In the congregation were several MPs, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives from other faiths as well as many Indian Catholics. Messages or apologies were read out from a former Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, Prime Minister Bill English and Dame Susan Devoy.

Mr Anthony, who came to New Zealand with his family from India in the 1990s, is well known for his many activities in business, in the community and in the Church.

As well as founding the Mother Teresa Interfaith Committee, which is responsible for an annual day in November where the saint and her spirit of selfless love are remembered and honoured by people from different faith communities, Mr Anthony is a board member of the Catholic Caring Foundation in Auckland and is the leader of the Divine Retreat Centre Movement in New Zealand.

He is also the director of the Conquest Boys Club, which aims to shape the character and personality  of boys aged 8-16, thereby forming leaders for tomorrow.

In the business world, Mr Anthony has served as chairman of the India-New Zealand Business Council and last year accompanied the Prime Minister of New Zealand on a state visit to Sri Lanka and later hosted a reception at his home when the Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited New Zealand.

He is chairman of the Bank of Baroda Limited and also chairs the Indian Newslink Community Fund.

In 2014, Mr Anthony was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to New Zealand-India relations.

In making the presentation of the papal medal, Msgr Kiely acknowledged Mr Anthony’s “great heart for the wellbeing of others”.

“We pray in thanksgiving now for your work and life and ministry, especially I might say in the interfaith realm, it is not often we gather, and we have much work to do, much work in our world, perhaps our most urgent task as human beings, to talk, to walk with one another, to have the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters no matter what their background in the palms of our hands,” Msgr Kiely added.

After Msgr Kiely blessed the medal, Dame Lyndsay Freer was invited to pin the medal to Mr Anthony’s jacket.

Speaking after the presentation, former Auckland diocese general manager Kerry Coleman told the congregation of the way Mr Anthony inspires others, but noted that this is “founded in a deeply rooted spirituality and full trust in God that you have”.

“Wenceslaus has a deep respect for St Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who he knew personally and worked with at earlier times in his life. And he derives much of his instinct and drive to activism from her inspiration,” Mr Coleman said.

Mr Anthony expressed his thanks to many people, but especially to Bishop Patrick Dunn, who had recommended him to Pope Francis for this medal.

“What I give back is only a single digit of the love I have received,” Mr Anthony said.

He paid tribute to his wife, Susan.

“So as I stand here today in thanksgiving, I want all of you to know that my first calling in life is to be a husband and a father. And that takes priority over all activities that I do in life.”

Mr Anthony said his key message was to keep on loving. He quoted St Teresa of Kolkata on the subject, but added a note from Mahatma Gandhi, that the biggest element of love is sacrifice.

“You and I are called to sacrifice and love,” Mr Anthony said.

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