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2019 In Aotearoa-New Zealand

During November 2019, a brother of the community spent some days in Aotearoa New Zealand visiting Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin as part of his pilgrimage. Here is his story.

The wind always seems to howl as you fly into Wellington. For those who have not experienced it before, it can be a white-knuckle affair. But the pilots know what they are doing.

At the airport, Sr Margaret Anne from the Sisters of Compassion was waiting for me with Linda, a lady who has spent all her life close to the sisters and who visited Taizé on her own even before my first trip there.

Thirty years ago, Sr Catherine and Sr Margaret Anne had been to Lyon, where their community’s foundress, the Venerable Suzanne Aubert (her name in religion was Sister Mary-Joseph), was born. After this pilgrimage, they visited nearby Taizé. Returning to Aotearoa, they began a monthly prayer with songs from Taizé at first in Compassion House in central Wellington, and then at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay. My visit was a response to their invitation to celebrate those thirty years of common prayer with them and all who had shared in that journey.

Venerable Suzanne Aubert came in 1860 to New Zealand with a heart for the Māori. She learned their language, te reo Māori, before learning English. Māori culture ran through the whole weekend retreat at the Home of Compassion. Beginning with the traditional Mihi whakatau welcome, the participants were called into the chapel by the local people and exchanged the hongi greeting.

Several Taizé songs had been translated into te reo Māori and used for the times of worship. Piano, double bass, flute, guitar and trumpet, played by a group of young people, some of whom had been volunteers in Taizé, accompanied the prayers. During the silence, the wind kept howling, but the chapel held firm!

© Sisters of Compassion

Times of reflection on the 2019 Proposals of Brother Alois, “Let us not forget hospitality!”, inspired the sharing for Saturday. Bible study in the morning and five afternoon workshops covered a range of themes based on the proposals, including the welcome of God to the peoples of Aotearoa and the generous welcome that can be discovered through hospital chaplaincy. A Māori hangi meal brought much joy on Saturday evening!

Like in Taizé, Friday evening saw prayer around the cross and Saturday evening, a celebration of the Easter light. On Sunday morning, there was the offer to take part in local church services or the Eucharist in te reo Māori in the chapel. The retreat ended with a simple poroporoaki (farewell) in the hope that our journey together will continue.

Before the retreat, I visited a drop-in café in Nae Nae, in the Lower Hutt Valley, where members of the missional order Urban Vision have built relationships in the community leading to the construction of much-needed new social housing. Later in downtown Wellington, I met with volunteers at Compassion House soup kitchen, which serves homeless people in the Wellington CBD, and, on my final evening in the city, prayer and Bible study took place at St Peter’s Anglican Church on Willis Street.

Something vibrant is taking place in Wellington. There are many intentional communities for young adults across the denominations, trying to reach out to people on the margins of society and live the testimony of the Gospel. At the same time, established communities are seeking how to renew their witness.

In Auckland, a beautiful evening prayer at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity marked this stage of the pilgrimage. Once again, songs were sung in te reo Māori. A choir from the Catholic Samoan community learnt very quickly the
Taizé chants and accompanied this time of worship.

© Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland

The Gospel was read in English, te reo Māori, Samoan, Solomon Pijin and Tongan, giving a real reflection of the lives of the Christian communities of the city. Bishops and leaders from the Anglican and Uniting Churches also took part.

In Dunedin, prayers and Bible studies were held at three venues: Mosgiel Presbyterian Church, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, and evening prayer at All Saints’ Anglican Church, where prayers with songs from Taizé have been held since many years. That evening prayer, in a church lit only by candle-light and an attention to the beauty of song, gave a fitting conclusion to the pilgrimage.

© All Saints’, Dunedin

Tom McAlpine (30) attended this prayer and appreciated the change from other youth-focused worship he has experienced, “In a lot of churches it is all about fitting into the group – and being stuck in a box – but in Taizé worship there’s more room to be an individual. There’s a lot less dogma and telling you what you need to believe. I think it is good for anyone to meditate and find a peaceful space and to socialise with some good people.”

To read an article in Anglican Taonga On-Line about the visit and see more photos, click here.

Last updated: 2 January 2020