Tena koutou katoa. Greetings to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Having now become shepherd of the Christchurch Diocese, I write to you with a deep sense of thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all His many blessings. I thank all those who offered me written and spoken messages of welcome and support. I am humbled to be asked to join with you on this pilgrimage of faith.
I thank those who joined with me at my Mass of Installation, both online and in person. The liturgy was a beautiful reflection of the Church, both local and universal. We recalled our united whakapapa in its apostolic line through Bishop Pompallier to the Apostles. We celebrated the uniqueness of the local Church, weaving together so many strands of language, ancestry, and whanau, as we celebrated the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith.
As I embark on my call to be the 11th Bishop of Christchurch, I look forward to visiting every parish, beginning with our regional parishes. As I write to you, I have already visited the parishes and schools of the West Coast and South Canterbury. I am inspired by the many signs of faith, both physical and communal, which point to the spirit and dedication of these communities. Through my visits, it is my hope to gain a sense of the entire diocese. I have already discerned your interest in the cathedral and parish development projects. Please be assured that I am giving these projects my due attention. I am listening and consulting as I develop a fuller understanding of our diocesan priorities and overall strategy. We will work together to understand what and where the Holy Spirit is calling us.
I am encountering a strong and proud history of faith, lively parishes, a deep community spirit which shows your concern for each other, a strong priestly fraternity, a buoyant support for vocations, and a positive engagement with the wider Catholic community and beyond.
The weekend after my Installation, I was blessed to ordain Fr Monty Bamford to the ministerial Priesthood. I am grateful for the attendance of so many of you and to those who supported Fr Monty throughout his formation. As a formator at Holy Cross seminary, I had a birds-eye view of Fr Monty’s formation. I deeply respect the manner in which the Christchurch Diocese supports its seminarians. Let us continue to pray, encourage, nurture, and identify local vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
I thank those of you who are involved in the ongoing Synodal journey. The bishops will consider feedback from the dioceses and respond to the Holy Father and his Vatican officials. I look forward to reflecting further on our diocesan feedback along with what I am hearing as I visit schools and parishes.
On a more sombre note, we are anticipating the final report from the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care at Marylands School. As many will know, this residential school for boys was located in Halswell and operated from the 1950s to 1984. The details of this report will be difficult for us to hear and digest. I also recognise the recent publicity around historical abuse relating to the Church. As bishop and on behalf of the Church, I can categorically state that we feel deep shame that vulnerable people under our care, experienced such despicable treatment.
In the 1990s, when the scale of abuse started to become more widely realised, the Church established the National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS). Its purpose is to respond to complaints of harm done and oversee the Church’s Safeguarding policies and practices. Its processes are set out in Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path to Healing. We have put many processes in place to ensure that situations like those reported, will not occur again. The purpose of safeguarding is to promote an environment within all our faith communities, which respects and acknowledges the dignity of everyone, and where people feel valued and safe. Safeguarding Officers are present in each of our parishes to assist with compliance, to champion safeguarding, and to support the parish in the development of best practice in safeguarding.
We cannot undo the hurt of the past. However, we are determined to learn from the damage caused to people, and do everything possible to prevent it in future. We think of those who have been wounded by this abuse. Their lives are often profoundly altered by the effects of this. Please pray for them, pray that they may find some resolution, and that we in the Church may now in some way, be a source of help and healing. Please also be assured of my commitment to creating a safe and fulfilling faith community within the Diocese of Christchurch. I thank you for your commitment to ensuring we are a safe and welcoming community.
In my Installation homily, I reflected on Jesus calling his first disciples to go out into the deep – duc in ultum. Tired from a night of fruitless fishing, he invited them to get back into their boat and put out again into the deep, where he would direct them towards an abundant catch. There are seasons in all our lives when we feel like the disciples, when we have given generously, while struggling to see any tangible results. Indeed, this diocese has endured so much over the last decade. Most recently you have endured the pandemic, which may have left you feeling like those first disciples, tired and worn out. Remember, you have put out into the deep before, with the Lord guiding you. You have risen to many challenges with resilience, grace, and a strength of community. I am now honoured to put out into the deep with you.
This Gospel also reminds us that it is not our work. We are all in the boat because of His invitation. He won our heart first and now He again asks us to trust Him when the future looks uncertain. Of course, the deep is not only the mission field in which we serve. Perhaps more importantly, it also reflects our relationship with Jesus. Do we not spend our entire lives reflecting upon the deep mystery of Christ’s relationship with us? I invite each of you to join me in trusting Jesus anew, putting out again into the deep and a future full of hope.
Mary Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop of Christchurch