With the haunting sound of the conch shell, more than 80 Bishops of Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, the Pacific Nations were welcomed to Wellington, New Zealand during a powhiri at the Sacred Heart Cathedral followed by a Mass which incorporated some of the pasifika cultures that are part of the local Catholic community, yesterday.
"Many of the visiting Bishops remarked that it was but one sign of the kind of warm welcome and hospitality that New Zealanders are known for," said Archbishop John Dew, President of the New Zealand Bishops Conference and President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania.
The Bishops are gathering for the Assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania which takes place in a different part of Oceania every four years.
During the Mass the Papal Nuncio to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Archbishop Martin Krebs, read a message sent by the Vatican's Secretary of State on behalf of Pope Francis, offering his prayerful support and his hope that during their time together the Bishops would find inspiration and strength for their common mission in the service of God's people.
The Bishops visited the Home of Compassion and met with the sisters, to hear about their foundress, Suzanne Aubert, her work for social justice in the wider community, the way she was embraced by the Maori community and her study of Maori herbal medicine and of Te Reo. Her cause for sainthood is underway and should she be beatified Mother Aubert would be New Zealand's first saint.
In workshop sessions, the bishops have discussed with those working in Catholic schools and tertiary chaplaincy on engaging young people and how they live their Catholic faith amid secularity.
As the Bishops gather together it is a rare opportunity for reflection, prayer, discussion and informal time together.
At the dinner last night Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Bill English welcomed the Bishops to New Zealand.
The Assembly takes place every four years in a different part of Oceania. There are 86 Bishops in Wellington for the event, from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, the countries of the Pacific and Australia and New Zealand.
It is 20 years since this Assembly was held in New Zealand when the inaugural Assembly was held in 1994 in Auckland, but it is a first for the Archdiocese of Wellington.