Catholic migrant communities in Auckland diocese have been telling their bishop about their fears for their children growing up in secular New Zealand. Bishop Patrick Dunn shared a couple of examples of this during a “bishop’s forum” at St Columba Centre in Ponsonby on May 27, one of several such events in the diocese this year.

“I was out in the Korean parish last year and some of the people said we are really worried about our young people growing up in secular New Zealand,” Bishop Dunn said.

“Samoan families very worried about what is happening with their children growing up in secular New Zealand,” he added.

Many “missionary” priests who arrive from overseas get a shock when they experience New Zealand’s secular society, the bishop said.

“Sometimes they say that ‘I thought it was more of a Christian country’.”

At the forum, the bishop shared some of the data about the 92 priests in parish ministry in Auckland diocese in April. Only 32 of these were born in New Zealand, while 17 were born in India, 12 in the Philippines, 12 in other Pacific states and 19 in “other”. Of the 92, 51 were diocesan priests and 41 religious.

“We are very dependent and grateful for a number of religious priests working in the diocese,” the bishop noted, but he said more diocesan priests are needed. Auckland diocese currently has six seminarians with two to be ordained priests in August and another to be ordained deacon in September.

The bishop also gave the forum an update on a discernment process concerning the diaconate in Auckland diocese.

“We have now had several years of the lived experience of deacons. “We are trying to discern, and we will continue during this year in a whole lot of forums, discerning do we go ahead with looking for more deacons . . . or are there other forms of pastoral leadership we need to consider. In the North they said, no, we prefer to have katekita (catechists).”

But Bishop Dunn also noted the big question is “how do we stem the Kiwi drift” in the Catholic Church in Auckland — by which he meant the dwindling presence of New Zealanders of European ethnicity who go to Sunday Mass.

At the Auckland youth synod in April, the bishop was struck by the very small presence of “Pakeha” young people.

“It affects all our families, all of us, we have got brothers and sisters or children or grandchildren or nephews and nieces or whatever, raised in the bosom of the Church and now drifting.

“This is a great missionary challenge, for the Church, secular society. All around the world, great minds, passionate hearts, are trying to address this issue.”

He acknowledged the growing number of people who say they are spiritual but not religious, adding that these are also a “big missionary challenge”.

Bishop Dunn told the forum of the process being undertaken for reviewing progress on Auckland diocese’s current pastoral plan and for imagining and planning the way forward.

In the next stage in the pastoral plan, “we have to take on board stuff that is coming from our youth synod and I guess the leadership Pope Francis is giving with the synod topic (Young people, faith and vocational discernment) coming up in October”.

One of the things Bishop Dunn would like parishes to consider is how to better cater for those whose work or study commitments mean they can’t get to daily Mass.

Are there possibilities for fellowship or worship in weekday evenings, as some other evangelical churches have successfully implemented, he asked.

Other topics he spoke about at the forum included the Royal Commission into Historic Abuse in State Care, and safeguarding children in church settings.