Kiwi Catholics need to be open to receiving missionary priests so that they (Kiwis) don’t miss out on the life of the universal Church.

Missio-NZ national director Fr Bernard Espiritu, SVD, noted there are people who seem to think that dioceses can be self-sufficient.

“We really need to develop lay leadership. I have no problem with that. But at the same time, we have to be more open to missionaries because that is part of being a universal Church,” he said.

Fr Espiritu said the Church is “sacrament-based and eucharistically founded”. “We need ordained ministers for that,” he stressed.

As a young boy growing up in the Philippines, Fr Espiritu recalled most of the priests were foreign missionaries.

“They were coming from Germany, Spain, America, Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

He added that one of the most popular churches in Metro Manila, the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or Redemptorist Church, was run early on by Australian and Kiwi priests.

“The missionaries who went to the Philippines were not fluent in our language. And their accent, as English speakers, was not understood by Filipinos in those days. But they (Filipinos) were welcoming. And those missionaries belonged to the people. The people loved them. At the same time, their vocation as missionaries were treasured,” he said.

Fr Espiritu said those missionaries inspired vocations in young men and helped mould the Church in the Philippines.

“The work of the Pontifical Mission is not only about collecting money and sending it overseas . . . [it is also about having] a welcoming spirit,” he said.

Fr Espiritu said missionaries do not just come to teach. “They come, first and foremost, to learn and walk together with people. This is what missionaries are and have always been. Our great missionaries from our congregation, they have acquired the culture and the language of the people,” he said.

Now, he said, the Philippines is sending out missionary priests, but not because the Church there has more priests than it needs. “We don’t give from our wealth, but we give out of our poverty. We do need priests in the Philippines, but because there is a greater need in the universal Church, we give out of our poverty,” he said.

Fr Espiritu also reiterated that all baptised Catholics are called to be missionaries. He said they do not even have to leave the country to be missionaries.

“In New Zealand, there are so many cultures here. How do we bring them together? That can be called an ‘ad gentes’ (to the nations) mission,” he said.

Ad gentes is the Second Vatican Council’s decree on missionary activity. Through this decree, Vatican II established evangelisation as one of the fundamental missions of the Catholic Church and reaffirmed the tie between evangelisation and charity for the poor.