Catholics celebrate first mass

By Peter de Graaf

Northland Catholics have celebrated the 175th anniversary of their first mass on New Zealand soil.

Tradition has it that the nation's first Catholic mass was led by the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, the Bishop of Western Oceania, at the property of timber merchant Thomas and Mary Poynton on January 13, 1838.

Their home - at Totara Point on the banks of the Mangamuka River in North Hokianga - is long gone, but the spot is marked by a modest monument in a field beside the river.

The anniversary was celebrated with vespers (an evening prayer service) and a benediction at Totara Point on Saturday evening, followed by mass at Tamatea Marae at Motuti on Sunday.

Bishop Pompallier's remains were re-interred in 2002 at Hata Maria (St Mary's Church) in Motuti, a church originally built at the Catholic mission station across the harbour at Purakau.

Sunday's service was led by Bishop Pompallier's successor Patrick Dunn, the 11th Bishop of Auckland.

Among the many Catholics and clergy present was the Papal Nuncio (the Pope's representative) for New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Archbishop Charles Balvo.

Archbishop Balvo brought a personal message from Pope Benedict XVI to the people of New Zealand and especially the Hokianga.

He also baptised 12 local children descended from Maori and European settlers who were present at the first service in 1838.

- Northern Advocate

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