Tommy Wilson: Let us keep alive the faith

By Tommy Wilson

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Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier was respected by Maori, British and European people alike.
Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier was respected by Maori, British and European people alike.

Long walks on secluded beaches are luxuries anywhere on the planet and even more so when you can do it in your own back yard here in Tauranga Moana.

My long walk on Saturday as the sunset said "haere ra" over the Kaimai Range was a solo effort, up until I came across a man of the cloth sitting on a rock, eyes closed and obviously deep in prayer. Pa Rawiri, or Pa Bro as we like to call him out here in Te Puna, has a home-grown, grass-roots religious aura about him that holds him in high regard with believers and non-believers alike, of which he places me somewhere in the middle. A middle ground of a paganistic, spiritual cowboy, who believes in the hands that serve are holier than the lips that pray beatitudes of a good, godly person.

The quality of our korero we have shared over the past 15 years has been of the highest order, both of us jousting with each others' opinions and beliefs - but always with enriching mutual respect.

As I approached, his eyes opened as if returning from a very cool place that he had a life membership to visit, whenever he so chooses, and without saying a word we greeted each other with a smile as wide as the nearby Wairoa River itself.

The classic Bee Gees lyrics came to mind: The preacher talked to me and he smiled, said, "Come and walk with me, come and walk one more mile."

And we did just that.

That's when I got to hear the gospel of religious freedom woven into article four of the Treaty of Waitangi that I knew nothing about and given the crisis of Isis it made me soak up every word from Pa Bro.

He shared with me information about a fourth article that was added to the Maori text of the Treaty signed at Waitangi, at the request of Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier.

It says: "E mea ana te Kawana ko nga whakapono katoa o Ingarani, o nga Weteriana, o Roma, me te ritenga Maori hoki e tiakina ngatahitia e ia."

Which means: "The Governor says that the several faiths (beliefs) of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome and also of Maori custom shall alike be protected by him."

This article guaranteed religious freedom for all in the new nation, including Maori.

Pennies from heaven started dropping as we walked and talked. The pilgrimage by Pompallier out to Aotearoa New Zealand was one of the drivers behind our Le Hikoi trip back to Normandy last year, covered in previous columns, to see first-hand where he departed from aboard the Delphine in December 1836, soon after followed by our forefathers Emile Borell and Louis Bidois who built many of the churches set up by the Bishop from Wiwi (France).

Pompallier was respected by Maori, British and European people alike because of the way he viewed and dealt with cultural and spiritual difference and his influence on putting in article four of the Treaty will be a legacy we can all celebrate in these troubled times of religious fanaticism.

This profound piece of prose has a resonance now that makes me wonder just what they, our tu puna (ancestors) and Pompallier knew back then, about what was coming now in the way of religion being the red rag to a raging bull of beliefs, that for me, belong more to the devil and his evil deeds than to the good guys of God like Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Io, Diva, Muhammad and his mates.

I am not big on chance meetings but more in the camp of divine appointments and my appointment with Pa Bro on the isolated beach of Te Puna had immaculate timing all over it.

Turns out as I would learn "walking one more mile" with the preacher, what we were looking at across on Motuhoa Island was where Bishop Pompallier baptised 1000 local Maori some 175 years ago, and this coming weekend will see a re-enactment of that historical moment on Motuhoa, when he arrived on our shores like the one we were walking on, and dedicated the mission to the saint of that day, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

A waiata we often sing here in Tauranga Moana reminds us of the rich inheritance left by the likes of Pompallier and our tu puna: Ehara i te mea no inaianei te aroha - no nga tupuna tuku iho, tuku iho. (The love we share is not from the present, but is handed down to us by our ancestors.)

As we forge this path together, both old and new, may we keep alive the faith, hope, and love of those who have gone before us.

Amen to that.

- Broblack@xtra.co.nz

Tommy Wilson is a best-selling Tauranga author

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