“The west is the best,” the Bishop of Auckland keeps being told when he visits parishes in West Auckland.

“Henderson is the best of the west,” Bishop Patrick Dunn exclaimed at a packed Holy Cross Church in Henderson on December 22. The occasion was a Mass for the dedication of the church, which had been rebuilt and expanded to accommodate more people in a fast-growing parish.

More than 1000 people gathered outside the church before the Mass and, after the bishop had cut a ribbon across the main entrance and parish priest Fr Sebastian Fernandes, OFM Cap, had unveiled a memorial plaque (at the bishop’s invitation), the congregation streamed into the building as a powhiri was performed, filling it to overflowing, with many people standing during the celebration.

Fr Fernandes later joked, in a speech at the end of the Mass, that just before the beginning of the celebration, someone had told him “Father, we have to build a bigger church”. The priest said that he responded “[the] bishop is here, you write a petition”.

The $5.4 million project, which had its origins in discussions as far back as 2005, involved a rebuilt and expanded church building, plus a parish centre and children’s library/meeting area.

The refurbished church has an improved layout, enabling the congregation to encircle the altar. The Studio of John the Baptist reworked the altar, lectern, tabernacle and crucifix, and created a new baptismal font, as well as restoring the mosaic art stations of the cross originally created by Milan Mrkusich. The rebuilt church can seat 700 people, up from the previous capacity of 500.

Bishop Patrick Dunn with relics that were placed in the altar.

In his homily at the Mass of Dedication, Bishop Dunn congratulated the parish on its achievement and praised the beauty of the building.

But as the Church’s prayers for the dedication of a new church say, the bishop added, “the real Church is made of living stones – you and me”.

“This building – this is our home, but we are the Church.”

“So, I thank you for your boldness and your courage in building this beautiful, renovated church, filled with life.”

“ . . . [L]et’s pray that this church will be a place where God’s Word is proclaimed, the sacraments are celebrated and we, the living stones, are nourished so that the living church of God will go from strength to strength – in the west, the best.”

Diversity

The Mass reflected the diversity of the parish, with many different communities having roles. 

The Tongan community and the youth of the parish processed the lectionary in for the readings. Prayers of the faithful were read in many languages, including Te Reo Maori, Tagalog, Tongan, Croatian, Samoan, Dutch, Fijian and Indian and Sri Lankan languages. The gifts were presented by the Samoan community. This saw a cooked pig briefly brought into the church on a stretcher, before it was taken away for later consumption. A Filipino choir sang during the Mass. Children from Holy Cross School presented flowers to Bishop Dunn and to priests.

At the end of the Mass, several people addressed the congregation, starting with rebuilding committee representative Peter Turnwald, who thanked Bishop Dunn for his encouragement “to include the new parish centre in the project – not to let the opportunity to be lost. So we proceeded with the whole project”.

“On another occasion we went in worried about the cost. And he looked at it and he said, well, really, the debt is really only the price of an average house in Auckland. It has probably gone up now bishop, to two or three average houses . . . He was always encouraging in that sense,” Mr Turnwald said.

NZ Catholic understands the parish had a debt to the diocese of $1.6 million for the project.

Mr Turnwald thanked and acknowledged many people who had contributed to the project – the diocesan property team, parishioners, the Capuchin community, Holy Cross School, fundraisers, ethnic communities, and rebuilding committee members.

He especially thanked rebuilding committee chairman Michael McKeown and architect (and parishioner) Susan Lee and the Studio of John the Baptist’s Michael Pervan.

One of the restored stations of the cross.

“It is up to the parish, the parish council, the priests, to use this facility to enhance what we have,” Mr Turnwald said.

“It is the best in Auckland – apart from St Patrick’s Cathedral, of course”, he said, smiling at the bishop. “We are second.”

Parish pastoral council chair Stephen Machado said the “way this entire community has rallied towards the common goal of this new Holy Cross Church was a very humbling experience, and I pray to Our Lord that he blesses us in this unity and the bond always”.

Fr Fernandes thanked everyone who had been involved in the project, in any way, at any time.

“Every drop of water makes the ocean. So, also, it is true that your smallest as well as biggest contribution has been significantly important in having this beautiful church made into a reality to adore the Lord whom we adore and trust.”

Bishop Dunn also spoke briefly after the Mass.

“I just want to add that there is never an ideal time to build a church or a school,” the bishop said.

“There’s always a lot of reasons why, oh no, we can’t do it now. You know, it is too difficult, it will be too expensive, we haven’t got the people. It takes a great sense of boldness to say, oh, we will do it.

“Rebuilding committee members – you really said, no we will do it. And all I can say is congratulations. When I walked into the church on Wednesday afternoon, I was just blown away. It is just wonderful and a church you can be very proud of.”

After the Mass, all were invited to go to the parish hall for light refreshments.

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