Centennial of Hato Hemi, Mitimiti, April 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to Hato Hemi church in Matihetihe (1916-2016).

By Wiga Autet

Four intense days, a superbly renovated whare karakia, a rejoicing crowd of Iwi and guests of all ages, a striking Hokianga scenery under very clement skies, many significant moments of worship and prayer but also a time for companionship and shared hospitality – these were the essence & the substance that made the Centennial of Hato Hemi (St James) church in Mitimiti a celebration that will be remembered for a very long time.

Hato Hemi was constructed under the direction of Father Charles Kreymborg (Pa Karora) of Mill Hill Fathers as a testament to Matihetihe’s standing as a stronghold of Te Hahi Katorika (Catholic Faith): “Matihetihe, the Seed-bed of the Faith”. The church was blessed and opened by the rangatira Mill Hill priest of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Fr Langerwerf (Pa Ateriano) on Easter Sunday, 23rd April 1916.

And exactly a hundred years later, on Saturday 23rd April 2016, an open air Centennial Mass has been celebrated by Fr Richard (Pa Rihari) Cortes MSP (Panguru) joined by Pa Henare Tate (Motuti), Fr Peter McDermott SM (Whangarei), Fr Ralph Barcelo (Kerikeri) and Fr Kevin Toomey OP to commemorate the Centenary Jubilee. In his homily Pa Rihari has said: “We are here to remember, to celebrate and to believe. We are here for Jesus. To remember that God is love and rich in Mercy. To remind one another that we are loved. We are here to celebrate the goodness of God. We do not celebrate the ‘dates’ but ‘days’ which become important in relation to people we love: their birthdays, baptisms, wedding and death anniversaries. And because we believe, we act according to our faith.”
It was a joyful gathering and occasion to acknowledge the past of Hato Hemi community, with the renewal of marriage vows made by ten different couples, and to look with confidence into its future with commissioning of the two new Katekita and welcoming -through the sacrament of baptism- of twenty young children and babies.

Following the mass, there were unveilings and blessings of the splendidly restored church and its old and new taonga. A magnificent stained glass window – inspired from a painting by a renowned New Zealand artist, Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere (born in Mitimiti) and depicting numerous North Hokianga creeks which finish their journey towards the sea at Mitimiti, was kindly funded by his Te Whanau Aroha and officially unveiled. A very special Apostolic Blessing for the Matihetihe community and the Panguru Parish was received from Pope Francis and will now add to the uniqueness of this church. A centenary plaque honouring the past and celebrating the present time has also been unveiled. A massive Crucifix featuring above the main altar – a gift from the Campbell family commemorating a death of their son in WWII – had seen major restoration works done and the replacement of the cross with a new wood. The old cross was cut into a limited number of wooden “biscuits” and a small cross had been hot-pressed onto each one; these were offered after the mass to selected people as taonga/gifts commemorating the Centenary Jubilee of the church. Amongst many other taonga and precious artefacts – all carefully restored and now reverently put on display – an amazing “Maori Madonna and Child” icon called for attention, not only because of its remarkable beauty and distinctiveness, but also because of the mystery around its origins: by whom and when was it painted? How did it find its way to Hato Hemi…? Similarly, the community is keen to find out about the origin of the church bell, the pews, the organ and the relics etched into the main altar. Many memories and stories have been offered and shared by those present or their whanau – but there are still many unanswered questions….

Finally, after the time to remember, to pray, to renew, to commit, to welcome and to celebrate – came the time to enjoy and cherish this Jubilee with beautiful local kai and genuine companionship. Time to mix and mingle, make new connections and renew the old ones. After the cultural programme and entertainment, the second day closed with the Karakia Whakamutunga.

Sunday’s programme invited to a Wananga (a seminar on cultural, religious, historical and genealogical knowledge), while on Monday, being the ANZAC day – there was time to mourn and remember those tupuna who had sacrificed their lives in the world’s conflicts and wars: during the Dawn Ceremony and at the Mass tributes and prayers were offered.

The hundred years of growing in faith, of service and dedication to the Hato Hemi church, have intensified over the last months as the local community has been preparing for the Centenary Jubilee, and have culminated in a welcoming, thanksgiving and love filled four-day long celebration. The Matihetihe community have proudly upheld the words of their tupuna Atama Paparangi, a respectful warrior chief of the local Te Rarawa tribe, one of the first to embrace the catholic faith for himself, his whanau and everyone associated with Matihetihe Marae, and who had proclaimed his religious beliefs in these words: “Aroha ki te Atua, aroha hoki ki te whakaritenga” (Love your God and your neighbour as yourself).

It was meaningful to Atama then, it is to us all today, and so it be to our mokopuna tomorrow.