Christchurch is to be the venue for the fourth national assembly of diocesan priests later this year.

These assemblies, an initiative of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, happen every five years. The three previous national assemblies were in Blenheim (twice) and in Rotorua.

Msgr Paul Farmer from Auckland, chair of the organising and planning committee for the national assembly, said a lot of discussion went into the venue.

The main reason Christchurch was chosen, Msgr Farmer said, was “to support the bishops and the priests and the people of Christchurch diocese, who have been through so much with the loss of churches and parishes and schools, and, of course, the destruction of their cathedral”.

The theme of the event, scheduled for September 10-14 at the Commodore Hotel, is “Being a priest today in an unprecedented time of change”.

The primary speaker at the assembly, Msgr Farmer added, will be Fr James Mallon from Canada, who is well known internationally for his writing on topics like parish renewal and the new evangelisation.

“I think Fr Mallon will challenge us to rethink our models of parish life, and challenge us to see new ways of ministering and pastoring,” Msgr Farmer said.

“His big emphasis is . . . that we are primarily called to be disciples of Jesus and to proclaim the Gospel to others.” Msgr Farmer said the thrust of Fr Mallon’s talks will probably be “to try and help us move from models of maintenance to models of mission”.

Another speaker will be Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta in Sydney. As a teenager, the bishop fled Vietnam in 1979 on a refugee boat, arriving in Malaysia, where he stayed in a refugee camp for 18 months and learned English. He eventually arrived in Australia in 1980.

Msgr Farmer said: “I think he will have a lot to say about immigration today, the displacement of people and I think he will challenge us in regard to things like clericalism and things that we just take for granted.”

Anglican Archbishop Sir David Moxon, who until recently was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Rome, will speak at the assembly dinner, as will Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel and other speakers.

Msgr Farmer said there were 180 priests at the Rotorua gathering in 2013 and a similar number is hoped for this year.

“The bishops are very keen that all the diocesan priests of the country attend — and I’m sure that given the very positive previous assemblies, it also will be well attended,” he said.

“The bishops see the assembly as a way of bringing their diocesan priests together; essentially it is a time to be together, it is a time to recreate and enjoy one another’s company, a time and an opportunity to renew friendships from the past. So the assembly will provide recreational times and spaces. It will be a time to pray together . . . .”

The other members of the organising committee are Frs Michael Gielen (Hamilton diocese), Craig Butler (Palmerston North), James Lyons (Wellington), Denis Nolan (Christchurch) and Michael Hishon (Dunedin).

James van Schie, the executive secretary of the bishops’ conference, is also working closely with the committee.

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