The Knights of the Southern Cross are helping a group of “south” kids head north — to help with their spiritual development.

The Knights, a society of Catholic men, supporting bishops, priests and laity in promoting Christian values and spiritual growth, are providing financial assistance so that 56 years 7 and 8 students from St John the Evangelist School in Otara in south Auckland can make a pilgrimage to the Hokianga and elsewhere in Northland.

The three-day pilgrimage, just before Labour weekend, will see the students visit significant sites including Tane Mahuta (the largest known living kauri tree in New Zealand), Rawene, Totara Point, St Mary’s in Motuti, Waitangi and Russell.

The school started doing a Northland pilgrimage four years ago, explained deputy principal Monica van Tiel, and they have had two since then.

“We wanted our students to leave our school [with] a very positive aspect of their faith and we thought, ending their primary school years with us, and being able to take part in a pilgrimage up north to the Hokianga, would be a wonderful way to do that for them,” Mrs van Tiel said.

She noted that, for most of the students, the pilgrimage is the first time they have been away from family. Staff members accompany the students.

“Every stop that we make, we have a little liturgy and reflection time. So it is about taking in the awe and wonder of God’s creations and it is also a time for reflection on where we are on our faith journey and appreciating who and what we have in our lives and also what we can do to be the best that we can be and to live our life to the fullest,” she said.

The students going this year are certainly excited at what lies ahead.

Denise Bartley said visiting Tane Mahuta will be very special for her. It will help with reflection on creation and God’s goodness, as well as the threats
posed to the environment.

Stephanie Jerome-Senio said that “we know that it is definitely not a camp — it is a spiritual journey for us”. It will be an opportunity to learn more about “Te Ao Maori” and to gain a deeper connection with God.

Alizé Tutagalevao added that the pilgrimage will reinforce to the students that “our faith is our compass in life”. And Daesha Schuster said she is looking forward to visiting places with links to Catholic spiritual “whakapapa”.

Mrs van Tiel said that the school decided the only things parents would be asked for is tinned food and biscuits for the journey, not money.

“And the school would have to fund the rest,” Mrs van Tiel said.

While many of the families with children at the school have three or four people working within their homes, still, after the rent is paid, it is still a struggle, because of rising costs, she said.

But being a small decile one school, “that is quite a challenge for us, because the amount of operations grant and money we get to survive on is quite limited, so we had to find ways to be able to finance this. And we have done, up until this year. But with rising costs and the increase in the number of students that we have, our bus costs have almost doubled, so it has added a considerable cost to the pilgrimage”.

So the assistance from the Knights is very timely, she said. “I think God meant it to happen.”

The Knights “get involved in projects from time to time”, said spokesman Chris Bonugli.

“We were looking for something that involved schools, particularly how we could assist in spiritual development, or fund a project that involved spiritual development,” he said.

They were put in touch with St John’s by Auckland diocese Catholic Social Services director John Metherell.

“We explored a number of areas and they came up with this particular idea, which we were very impressed by and the people we spoke with as well,” Mr Bonugli said.

Now the Knights are looking forward to a presentation about the pilgrimage from St John’s students, when they get back.

“We see this as the first step in the relationship with the school,” Mr Bonugli said.

“There are other ways, maybe, that we can help in the future. So it is really a starting point.”

The Knights of the Southern Cross (KSC) are part of the worldwide Catholic Knights organisation and have been active in New Zealand for almost 100 years.

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