Uplifting family ceremony for ordination of Bishop Michael Gielen

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Bishop-elect Michael Gielen was ordained as Auxiliary Bishop of Auckland in an extraordinary, uplifting ceremony in a packed Vodafone Events Centre in Wiri on Saturday 7 March.

Bishop Michael was ordained and warmly welcomed as his long-needed assistant by Bishop Pat Dunn, Bishop of Auckland in a wonderful multicultural spiritual occasion.

The events centre was needed because so many people wanted to attend, the cathedral was not big enough for the crowd of 3000!

Father Neil Vaney, SM, Pastoral Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre, was there and wrote this account:

We are family

By Fr Neil Vaney SM

Seated high in a row behind the altar, among hundreds of other priests, I was captivated by the vibrant colours all around the four sides of the events arena. To my left were banked row upon row, the Samoan choir, resplendent in white. At the rear I could make out the ranks of the Tongan people in ceremonial red waiting their turn to enter. Among the thousands filling the stadium, bright blue, orange and green shone out.
The plaintive cry of the karanga rang out and the Maori callers led Fr Michael’s people in. He was accompanied by his parents and a throng of sisters and their families; older youths to babies still in arms. Extending right across the front of one side they were to be a bridge between the formal dignity of the liturgy and the graced ordinariness of family life.

My grasp of te reo is very limited but I was able to catch the general sense of the mihimihi that followed as the Waikato people greeted those from Auckland, bringing their gift of their priest. The local people replied in kind with traditional jokes and challenges causing bursts of laughter.

As the Tongan community processed in bearing the book of the gospels, Fr Michael’s sister, Anna, came and stood beside Bishop Pat Dunn. Carried high on its own throne, the book was proceeded by young women singing joyfully, accompanying their gliding movements with exquisite movements of their hands, all in perfect harmony. As they stood facing this joyous outpouring I saw the bishop reach out to take Anna’s hand in a gesture of support and reassurance before she began to read the first lesson. It told of the prophet Jeremiah’s fear and reticence as God called him into his demanding role, for as he said, I am but a boy (Jer 1.4-9).

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After Bishop Pat had given a homily reflecting on the significance of the readings for the mission of the bishop elect and the diocese, Michael’s nieces and nephews came up to read out their prayers and petitions. Ranging in age from about 20 to five,  their simplicity and clarity were laced with obvious love and awe, especially so as the littlest, held up by his mother, prayed that their uncle might still be able to come and visit them.

The liturgy marched on in beauty and solemnity, but there are particular moments that stay with me. Bishop Pat, examining his soon to be colleague, went through a list of about ten questions asking whether Michael was ready to lead, to teach, to inspire, to be a model of Christ for his people. All the burden of 25 years of grace and wisdom, struggles and sadness reached across the space between master and pupil, embracing them both in their common call.
Then as Michael lay prostrate before the altar, the full-hearted petitions of the congregation  – Lord have mercy, pray for us, save your people, hear our prayer – rang out.

During the prayer of ordination, two of Michael’s priest colleagues held the book of the gospels open above his head – a burden to carry but also a symbol of power and anointing always before his eyes. Soon afterwards Bishop Pat poured the oil of chrism on the new bishop’s head, rubbing it in with a gesture of joy and playfulness.
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Other pungent symbols took their place; a procession of students from Auckland Catholic schools brought up the symbols of office for the new bishop: ring, pectoral cross, mitre and staff. Among the bearers was a youth from the Hokianga, a descendant of those originally baptised by Bishop Pompallier, as well as a parishioner from Tokoroa, Bishop Michael’s home parish.

The parish of Tokoroa was to be mentioned once more just before the end of the ceremony. Before the final blessing, the new bishop had a chance to say a few words of thanks. After almost three hours I was expecting a brief pro forma address. Instead came five to 10 minutes that gripped all there.
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The bishop described how as a seven-year-old, after two miserable years fighting severe asthma, he stood on the family farm wondering if all his life was to be such a struggle. The next year the family returned to Church and to the practice of their faith. It was as if the river started to flow again. A move into Tokoroa brought them into the warmth and community of the local parish and eventually a call to a priestly vocation.

He was ordained there by Bishop Max Mariu, the only ordination before his untimely death. The mention of this remarkable Maori bishop brought a moment of quiet recall for all there, followed by warm applause. Carrying on with the image of the river, the new bishop spoke of how Christ’s waka had carried him to many parishes in the Waikato diocese where he had grown and learned so much. He then moved to the heart of the Christian message, that Jesus loved each one of us and can transform our lives whether we be seven or 70. This small discourse drew sustained applause.
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As I look back over this ceremony I am struck by the symbolism of the family of faith in Catholic teaching. The ceremonies were solemn, superbly orchestrated, and sustained by the loving attention to detail of hundreds of singers, servers and organisers. But there was also a simplicity and joy that radiated from the loving presence of Michael’s family, from his father Henk, who is a deacon and read the gospel, to the youngest nephew who read his bidding prayer with such sincerity and trust.

This was truly family, hugely diverse in race, tongue and culture but drawn together by something much greater, the presence of the risen Christ which filled the events centre.