In July 2016, one hundred students and staff from the National Network of Marist Schools will gather in north Hokianga to celebrate the two hundreth anniversary of the Pledge of Fourviere. As the event at Fourviere, high on the hill above the city of Lyons in France, marked the beginning of the Society of Mary in the world, so Hokianga hosted the beginning of the Society of Mary in New Zealand, and, indeed, the planting of the Catholic faith in Aotearoa.
On 23rd July 1816, Fr Jean Claude Colin, and eleven of his companions, climbed the hill of Fourviere in the old city of Lyons and visited the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary that overlooks the city. There they celebrated Eucharist and signed what we now know as the Pledge of Fourviere, a promise to found a religious society that bore the name of Mary. It would be twenty long years before the Society of Mary received approbation, and only four of the original twelve who signed the pledge would still remain committed to the project, but that moment in time began a chain of events that has resounded through the ages. We are drawn back now to the Hokianga harbour, to Totara Point where the Eucharist was first celebrated on New Zealand soil, to Purakau where Pompallier established the first Catholic mission, and to Motuti where Pompallier now lies at peace among the first people whom he served.
The celebrations, from 20th to 24th July, will be a time of gathering for young people, an opportunity to reflect on the beginnings of the Catholic faith in Aotearoa New Zealand, and a chance to grow in understanding of the contribution of the first Marists. We will listen to stories of Bishop Pompallier himself, his enormous energy and zeal, his immediate influence on both Maori and the European settlers; we will reflect on the quiet and humble ministry of Fr Servant, and the extraordinary hardships he cheerfully bore during the early years of the mission; and we will wonder at the ordeals experienced by Br Michel Colombon as the seeds of the faith were sown. We will mix among the local people and hear their stories of faith, and how the example of the early missionaries still inspires them.
A wise old teacher told us once that if you have a good understanding of Church history you will never lose your faith. This celebration is an opportunity to take our young people home to the foundational place, to allow them to walk the very paths trodden by the first Marists, to pray in the same places, to meet and greet the same iwi, and to gain, perhaps, a greater sense of wonder, a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership of the mission that still exists.