People from around New Zealand gathered at St Mary’s Parish in Christchurch today to pay their respects to former Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, Bishop John Cunneen.
Christchurch’s eighth Catholic Bishop died on Tuesday 9 November at Nazareth House. He lay in state at St Mary’s on Monday and Tuesday of this week, and vigil requiem masses were held on both evenings.
Today’s requiem Mass was celebrated by Christchurch Bishop Barry Jones. Concelebrants included Apostolic Nuncio of New Zealand, Archbishop Charles Balvo, and members of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.
The homily was delivered by Emeritus Bishop Basil Meeking, who said Bishop Cunneen was known as a man of “unwavering pastoral charity”.
“The holy gifts he received in ordination flourished and bore fruit abundantly in his life not least because he had also notable natural gifts of temperament and character which brought him close to people... His clear, wholehearted commitment to social justice, to the relief of human need, to human development was not in the abstract; he simply got on with the job when he saw a person in need”.
Bishop Meeking spoke of Bishop Cunneen’s active involvement with Maori, the Samoan communities in Christchurch, young people and prisoners. He said people found in the bishop a fatherly figure, friend and someone who understood, listened and cared for them.
“All of that was highly personal and it gave him a certain image, yet he always remained solidly based in a parish,” said Bishop Meeking.
“He was essentially a hardworking parish priest and he gave of his best in every parish where he served... When he became Bishop of Christchurch his impulse was to act as parish priest of the whole diocese and his abundant pastoral charity was lavished on people more widely than ever,” he said.
He described Bishop Cunneen’s full part in the work of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, presiding over the Conference’s ecumenical commission for a number of years, and co-moderating the dialogue with the Anglican Church of New Zealand.
Former Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, David Coles, spoke of Bishop Cunneen’s significant contribution to relationships between different faith groups and read a message from Anglican Archbishop, David Moxon, who is currently in Rome.
Bishop Meeking said Bishop Cunneen accepted “with fortitude and great faith” the news that cancer was to end his life.
“He had lived with trust in God’s plan for his life and he approached the end of his days in the same spirit,” he said.
“Our memory of him will be of the great pastoral charity which made his life beautiful for God, a blessing for the Church and a sign of hope for us who remain”.
Following the funeral, Bishop Cunneen was laid to rest in a private ceremony in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.