by DALE GREENBURY

On February 18 this year, a group of five women from the parish of St Mary’s, Whanganui travelled to Kaupokonui Beach in South Taranaki for a three-day retreat. They took the vision of Suzanne Aubert with them as the focus for their time together.
The weather was fine and warm, their accommodation was a bach close to the beach, generously made available to them by Stuart and Jessie Craig of Manaia.

It was a welcome haven, in the style of beach houses of the past with numerous beds and bunks, a gathering area, a kitchen and an ablutions area, which, to the visitors’ relief, featured a modern convenience, not the long drop once common. There were three other such dwellings wrapped around a ,grassed area bordered by bush on one side, farm land
on another and an open aspect looking out across the river to the sea.

Standing in the centre of the area was a simple sign with the word Mareakura.

The story of this name tells of when Turi, the captain of the Aotea canoe, reached the entrance to the Kaupokonui River, his enchanted cloak opened twice and spread out and he called the place “Mareakura”. For the visiting women, the  word brought to mind the iwi that owned the land, bringing the spirit of the first people who settled this area into their
vision.

The parallel of the ocean, the river and the Māori people was not lost on the group with the “awa” of their home town Whanganui. They felt the connection with Suzanne Aubert and the history of her journey to Jerusalem up the Whanganui River all those years ago.

Over the three days of using books, cards and music that spoke of the vision and words of Suzanne Aubert, the group explored and shared what her messages meant to them. On one day they travelled to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Stratford to attend Mass at 9am, with Fr Don Don Rancho, who had only recently shifted to Stratford from their Whanganui parish, being the celebrant.

On another day, they welcomed Srs Litia and Luciana of the Sisters of Compassion,
who joined them for lunch and led an inspiring meeting celebrating the masterpiece Suzanne left them as an example to follow that challenges them to do likewise.

They shared food, laughter and tears, they walked on the windswept beach, paddled in the river, and marvelled and felt a part of the beauty of God’s creation that surrounded them.

(Pope Francis tells us of being united as “Sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage ,woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth” Laudato Si’, 92).

The mountain, The Maunga Taranaki, that peeped above the treetops, was a sentinel that guarded over the women on their spiritual journey.

With every step along the beach, it appeared to rise higher and higher pointing
to the heavens.

In reflecting upon Suzanne’s offered vision, her methods, the process she had matured in, delighting in her work as she broke down barriers and healed others, honouring the tapu of every person, the group also recalled when they, too, had experienced some of her struggles in their own lives and had been able to overcome them.

In the three days of focusing on this woman with a heart for mission, Helen Codlin, Dale Greenbury, Karyn Coleman, Anna Thomson and Kathleen Orsborn had become closer as friends and also became “The Friends of Suzanne Aubert”.

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