Postcard from the edge

February 23, 2010 in General, News

paul_01Paul Andrews SJ, who last December took time out from his duties as director of the Jesuit Communication Centre to do parish work in New Zealand, wrote this week to AMDG, keeping us abreast of his sojourn in the antipodes. Read on.

“I am writing this in a small room in the presbytery in Gore, a country town, built by hard-working farmers, many of them of Irish blood. I have stayed on site since I arrived in December, occupied with parish work and some writing, as well as some fishing and swimming and praying. Last weekend I made a sortie north into Central Otago, a hot, dry landscape once famous for gold-mining. Two striking memorials of Irish settlement are the massive Daniel O’Connell bridge over the Manuherikia river, and the Church of the Irish Martyrs in the provocatively named town of Cromwell – the Irish pastor was determined to remind people of the dark side of Oliver. The flavour of Empire was evident also in the town of Alexandra, named after an English queen, where I preached at three Masses.

On Tuesday I drove down the lovely valley of the Taieri river, which I fished in a few places, before arriving at Dunedin, capital of the Otago Province, to overnight with an old friend, Fr Mark Chamberlain. Talk about multi-tasking! He is parish priest of a pastoral area taking in the northern part of Dunedin, and including five churches (he has no curate). He is the very active chaplain to Otago University, the oldest in New Zealand. He is the Catholic chaplain to the main hospital in the city. Mark is extraordinary: he is gifted in all sorts of way, in health, energy, brains, but above all in a capacity to love. His company is life-enhancing.

That evening we drove to the Cathedral where Bishop Colin was leading a Mass for Vocations. It turned out to be quite an event. Over half the priests of the diocese concelebrated, and all the seminarians of New Zealand came down from Auckland. There was a strong Samoan presence. As we processed into the cathedral dusky Samoan maidens garlanded us priests with coloured leis. At the Offertory a Samoan group set up a wonderful chant that had my feet itching, and as they sang, two golden-skinned dancers moved slowly up the aisle: a woman first, in a dress of gold, followed by a man in gold trousers and naked from the waist up. Their dance was slow, reverent, in rhythm with the chant, and beautiful. They were followed by Samoan men, women and boys bringing up the offerings and all wearing the same dress, a white shirt with a knee-length tubular blue skirt. After Mass I lingered on the steps of the Cathedral greeting friends from 1999 when for four months I was the Administrator here.

Here is a story that gives some flavour of the robust church down under: one of the Dunedin priests, who is highly episcopabilis, received a polite letter from the Papal Nuncio saying that he had heard this man was in favour of women’s ordination, and would he like to comment on this? “What a joy,” he wrote back, “to get a letter from a nuncio in the middle of all the bills and appeals and complaints that fill my letter box! And what an interesting question! Of course I’m in favour of the ordination of women! Don’t you think that we boys need all the help we can get? I am so pleased you asked me, and I appreciate, of course, that my answer will debar me from any ecclesiastical preferment in the future!  That too gives me great satisfaction. Thank you, nuncio, for carrying out these thankless tasks that go with your job.” The nuncio wrote back a gracious thanks for his letter and admitted to a certain sadness over the whole operation.

AMDG Express is a particular pleasure when read at this distance. Thank you.

Paul Andrews, SJ