All the country’s Catholic bishops will gather in Wellington on Sunday 15 August for a Mass to renew Bishop Pompallier’s 1838 dedication of Aotearoa New Zealand to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.
The Mass will be celebrated at the Wellington landmark St Mary of the Angels Church, which will be become the national shrine of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.
August 15 is a Holy Day of Obligation for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which this year is also a Sunday. Parishes throughout the country will be invited to join in prayer for the renewal of the dedication.
The bishops have commissioned an icon artwork of Mary by Christchurch artist Damien Walker. The work will be taken on a hikoi around each of the country’s six Catholic dioceses in the three months leading to the Solemnity of the Assumption.
The hikoi will start in May at Totara Point in the Hokianga, where Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier celebrated the first Mass on New Zealand soil on 13 January 1838 and dedicated the country to Mary under the title of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.
Bishop of Hamilton Stephen Lowe, Secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, said many Catholic faithful urged the bishops during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown a year ago to dedicate Aotearoa New Zealand to Mary to seek her protection.
“Bishop Pompallier had already dedicated the country to Mary,” says Bishop Lowe. “But the bishops thought the idea of a renewal of that dedication had merit, especially because this year, August 15th is a Sunday. Mary has a special and very holy place in the hearts of Catholics. In this time of a world pandemic, we felt it fitting to renew our country’s dedication to her.”
The bishops advertised nationally for an artist to create a special work for the renewal. They received 17 quality proposals, choosing the one by Damien Walker of the Studio of St Philomena in Christchurch for a painting of Our Lady.
After the hikoi, the painting will be displayed in the baptism alcove of St Mary of the Angels, which will become a national shrine to Mary. The church is a historic landmark in central Wellington, opened in 1922 and served by priests from the Society of Mary, a Catholic congregation founded in France in 1816 under the patronage of Mary.
Damien Walker says he is creating a Madonna and Child with an emphasis on kotahitanga (unity).
“The painting presents Mary as a symbol of unity in her universal motherhood, uniting Heaven and Earth in her son,” Damien says. “She reflects the unity of the Church, which reaches to the ends of the Earth, stretching not only across the oceans but across the centuries as well. The work has a distinctly New Zealand flavour, emphasising also the unity of the tangata whenua with all the other peoples who have come to live alongside them in the partnership of bi-culturalism, called to live the same faith and baptism, each in their unique way.”
Father Kevin Mowbray, SM, Parish Priest of St Mary of the Angels, says the church community is honoured and excited to be chosen as the national shrine: “Mary herself was a pilgrim following her son in difficult and dangerous times,” says Fr Kevin. “So it is fitting that we should ask her, at this present moment in our history through such a re-dedication, to accompany the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand as it too walks in faith with the Lord.”
Bishop Pompallier – who was associated with the Society of Mary – was this country’s first Catholic bishop, serving from 1838 to 1868, when he returned to his native France. He took part in negotiations at Waitangi in 1840 before the signing of the Treaty, and published some of the first printed Māori prayer books and Bibles.
In a pastoral letter about the 1838 dedication of the country to Mary, the New Zealand bishops wrote: “Bishop Pompallier placed our country under the protection of Mary as she is now – alive, body and soul, rejoicing in the happiness of God’s kingdom.”
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