If there was a quintessentially Auckland ceremony for ordination to priesthood, it would be Fr Martin Wu’s ordination.
It was a standing-room-only affair at St Patrick’s Cathedral, prompting Cathedral Dean Fr Peter Tipene to remark that they weren’t prepared for “10 million people”.
The parishioners who attended were as diverse as the city, both in ethnicity and age. All staked a claim on this new priest. Several religious priests and sisters as well as Chaldean priest Fr Douglas Al-Bazi were present, as were Imams from the Muslim community.
The ceremony was mostly in English, but was in parts Māori (karanga), Mandarin (first reading) and Pasifika (Gospel procession).
In his homily, Bishop Patrick Dunn said it was fitting that the ceremony was
held on the feast of St Lawrence, one of the seven deacons of Pope Sixtus II martyred in the third century.
Bishop Dunn said St Lawrence was persecuted when the Roman prefect demanded the Church’s treasures and he (St Lawrence) presented the prefect with the young, the sick, the blind and the maimed. For St Lawrence, Bishop Dunn said, the people are the Church’s treasures.
“From the fourth century right through the middle ages, the feast of Lawrence is one of the most important feasts in the Church’s calendar. It definitely summed up what is in the very heart of the Gospel: that the Church is made up of living stones, the people. And in some ways, it’s a very fitting feast for Martin,” Bishop Dunn said.
Fr Wu came to Auckland 30 years ago at the age of seven. His family was from Hong Kong. His mother was a very devout Catholic and among the first things they looked for was a Catholic church.
He first started serving as an altar boy at Good Shepherd church in Balmoral, under Msgr Bernard Kiely, who was a young priest then.
“If I talk about people who made great impressions in my life, priest-wise, Bernard Kiely would be the number one. It wouldn’t be anyone else. He was a new priest. And he was very, very playful, vibrant. You can tell that he just very much cared about everyone,” said Fr Wu.
The Wu family settled in Pakuranga. Fr Martin continued serving as an altar boy at St Mark’s church.
When the Chinese Catholic Community in Auckland was formed by Fr Peter Choy, he served there as well. Fr Choy was another priest instrumental in Fr Wu’s vocation.
Fr Wu served up until the age of 16, when he got fed up with internal squabblings at the parishes where he served.
“I was quite happy to be a Sunday Catholic, because I was very much saddened by the politics in the Church. I thought if I just became a Sunday Catholic, maybe, I’d be happier,” he said.
Life went on. He finished his studies, worked in customer service, built a fairly successful software company and travelled. But something was missing.
“I was never content with any of those things. It didn’t make me happy. When I say I wasn’t happy, I don’t mean I was depressed. There was something missing,” he said. “I always thought I was going to have a family. And the girlfriends that I had, I always told them I wanted 12 kids. I wanted a big family. Because I’ve always loved that, marriage was definitely the
World Youth Day 2008 was a turning- point, though.
“I disengaged with the Church because I was so upset about the politics and all of that. But in World Youth Day, I saw how vibrant the Church was, how we’re called to inspire,” he said.
Fr Wu said Pope St John Paul II’s message, “I see in you the morning watchman”, was a very strong call back to the Church.
Challenges at the seminary
Fr Wu said he had quite a shock when he went to the “Come and See” weekend at the seminary.
“The thought of living with a bunch of guys was a little bit weird. I’m just being very honest. But I went with it,” he said.
He had the occasional full and frank exchange of views with members of the formation team.
“But ultimately, I’m very grateful for all of them,” he said.
At the seminary, he quickly realised the timetable was going to be a struggle.
“I remember the previous rector Fr Philip Handforth said, ‘we have morning prayers at 7 o’clock.’ And I put my hand up, ‘Father, what happens if I’m not ready to talk to God at 7 o’clock in the morning?’ And he goes, ‘after a while, you get used to it’,” Fr Wu said.
Third year struggle
By his third year, he was having selfdoubts.
“I was planning to leave in my third year. I thought, ‘Oh my God, who am I to be a priest?’ I was totally unworthy. And everybody would say to you, ‘no one’s worthy.’ I’ve heard all that before.”
What helped was a letter from Bishop Dunn. “The two things that Bishop Pat said to me: if you feel that the people of God are affirming you, and you still feel called by God, then you have nothing to worry about,” Fr Wu recalled.
He remembered being asked to go to a youth camp, which he didn’t want
to go to.
“I was sitting there, really uncertain about my vocation, when this young person came up to me, someone [who] I’ve worked with. I’ve been part of his life. And he said to me, ‘you know what, when you become a priest, I’ll feel very comfortable coming up to you for confession because you never gave up on me.’ I was going, ‘oh my gosh. I’ll take that as an affirmation.’ This kid didn’t even go to church normally. He came up to me randomly and said something like that,” he said.
The next thing he needed was an affirmation from God.
“Everybody who knows me knows I sleep very well. One night in the seminary, I was woken up, very peacefully with one Bible passage: ‘You did not choose me, I chose you’. Completely calm. It was pretty weird, now that I think about [it]. I was like, ‘ok’. Then, I went to bed. I didn’t even think about it. It was a very clear message,” he said. “Now that I’ve thought about it, I probably should have contemplated about it more.”
Fr Wu said the people of God can expect him to be a practical priest.
“I’m probably not the best person to ask theological questions from. I do believe in that, as a Church, we’re called to love and serve and be real to people. I don’t think the people of God [are] after someone who can give them all the answers in life. I think people just want to be loved and that they’re at home in the Church,” he said.
He said his formation will continue beyond the seminary.
“My formation, in my belief, never stops. And the people are the best to form you. So, it’s important for them to know, I don’t know it all. I’m still learning. I will be learning till I die. Be patient with me,” he said.