New Zealand Receives the Body of Its 1st Bishop

Remains of Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, Apostle to the Maoris

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand, FEB. 7, 2002 ( New Zealand Catholics have succeeded in having the body of Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, the country´s first bishop, returned to his adoptive land.

The PIME magazine Mondo e Missione reported as early as 1970 that New Zealanders expressed the wish of receiving the mortal remains of the 19th-century bishop.

Eighteen years later, a delegation of bishops traveled to the Vatican to attend the Synod of Oceania. While in Europe they visited the bishop´s tomb, located in a suburb of Paris. Talks ensued with the Church in France.

After reaching an agreement last Dec. 30, a group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Auckland, led by Bishop Patrick Dunn, traveled «to take home» the mortal remains of Bishop Pompallier. French television on Dec. 29 showed Maori women singing when they had journeyed to his tomb.

The body arrived in Auckland on Jan. 11. Final burial in Motuti, Maori land, is scheduled for April 20. Celebrations have been organized in the six dioceses that will, in turn, receive the bishop´s remains.

Jean-Baptiste Pompallier was born in Lyon in 1802. He became a diocesan priest in his native city in 1829. In May 1836 he was named apostolic vicar of Western Oceania and bishop of Maronea.

He embarked for those lands in December 1836, together with a group of Marists, whose congregation had just been approved by Pope Gregory XVI.

Pompallier arrived in Hokianga, north of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), on Jan. 10, 1838. There he celebrated his first Mass on New Zealand soil.

Among his merits is inculturation. From the beginning of his apostolate, he submerged himself in the Maori tradition and language, and shared this knowledge with the religious who joined him.

After creating missionary centers throughout New Zealand, Bishop Pompallier left his adoptive country in 1868 to return to France, where he died three years later.

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