Vicar Rev Fr Anup Joseph Eapen –
The prelate of the Indian Orthodox Church, Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Paulose II was on a maiden visit to New Zealand from November 10 to 14, 2015.
I was with the parishioners of St Dionysius Indian Orthodox Church in Auckland and many others to welcome the Holy Father as he landed at Auckland Airport on November 10.
The Diocesan Metropolitan, His Grace Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros arrived later aboard a delayed flight.
The Holy Father and Mar Diascoros were in Wellington on November 11 to attend the Holy Eucharist held at the Assyrian Church of St George. Mar Diascoros celebrated the service in the presence of His Holiness.
This followed with a welcome meeting where many dignitaries including Attorney General Christopher Finlayson participated. His Eminence Amphilochios Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church, Rev Richard Randerson, Retired Bishop of the Anglican Church & Rev Fr Aprem Pithyou of the Assyrian Church, Clergies from the Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox offered felicitations.
The Holy Father and Mar Diascoros arrived in Hamilton on November 12. The faithful of the St Gergorios Indian Orthodox Church accorded a traditional welcome. The feast of the patron Saint Gregorios was held in the evening.
A torch lit from the first Indian Orthodox Church in New Zealand, named after the sacred memory of the illuminator of the church, St Dionysius was brought by a group of parishioners from Auckland.
Evening prayers followed and the Holy Eucharist was celebrated by Mar Diascoros in the presence of His Holiness. After the benediction, a public meeting was held to greet the visiting primate.
The Anglican Bishop of Waikato, Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley was present at the Feast and spoke at the meeting.
The Holy Father was in Auckland on Friday, November 13 and visited the Church at 55 Keeling Road, Henderson where the Indian Orthodox Church owned the first property in New Zealand. The church members and local MP Phil Twyford were present to receive the Holy Father. Children with lighted candles, youth throwing flowers on the walkway, ornamental umbrellas, firecrackers, illuminations etc. all added flavour to the event.
The Auckland Parish also celebrated the Feast of St Gregorios. His Holiness celebrated the Holy Eucharist at the newly built Church, which was consecrated early this year.
The Eucharist was followed with a public meeting where clergy and faithful from the Coptic, Syrian, Catholic & Marthoma churches also participated.
The Diocesan Bishop chaired the meeting. Mr Twyford, priests from the Coptic, Catholic and Marthoma Churches felicitated His Holiness, who addressed, blessed the gathering and distributed gifts to the dignitaries.
Later, His Holiness consecrated the first cross shrine in the Pacific Region dedicated in the memory of The Holy Theotokos, in front of the Church.
After the benediction and love feast, His Holiness planted a New Zealand fern sapling at the church premises in memory of the historic visit.
Faithful gathered in large numbers to meet and seek the blessings of His Holiness.
The contingent then left for the next leg of this visit to Sydney on November 14.
The Diocesan Metropolitan Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros and I accompanied His Holiness throughout the visit.
In retrospection, the maiden Apostolic visit of His Holiness was rejoicing for the faithful in NZ who were privileged to view the radiance of the Holy Father’s countenance.
Notes from Wenceslaus Anthony, Chairman, Divine Retreat Centre, New Zealand:
As the Chairperson of the Divine Retreat Centre, Apostolate of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Auckland, it was a spiritual experience for me.
I was deeply moved by Lady’s grotto in the compound which was blessed by his Holiness and the words inscribed, ‘Here is Your Mother.’ One could spend hours reflecting on the Picture of the Blessed Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus and those words and experiencing the Love of the Blessed Mother whose only desire was that we do what her son Jesus wants us to do.
The meeting with the Holiness and his humility in relating to everyone was inspiring.
The Auckland Church comes under the Diocese of Chennai, Diocesan Metropolitan His Grace Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros and the Vicar in Auckland is Rev Fr Anup Joseph Eapen.