On Pilgrimage

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 35, Advent 2005

It was my privilege this spring to visit the CW community in the Far North and experience first hand the hospitality and lives of the people there. I had read and heard about both Clare House and St Francis Farm from reading The Common Good for many years and, more recently, from becoming involved with the CW community here in Christchurch.

The far north experience was part of a whole pilgrimage, so it seemed, as I was attending a teacher’s conference at Waitangi, which had as its central theme, the importance of our relationships with each other – within families, communities and our places of employment. One of our Christchurch Catholic Workers was giving a keynote speech entitled ‘There for the Long Haul – A Spirituality for Today’ and such was the atmosphere of the conference, that everyone was happy to talk about spirituality in what is often a very secular environment. This was due in no small part to being at Waitangi.

So…..spirituality and relationships – little did I know that the theme would continue and be enfleshed by spending three wonderful days in Opononi and Whirinaki. We arrived in the late afternoon, after a full final day at the conference and a drive from coast to coast. I had never visited the Hokianga before and was firstly delighted by the view of the sandhills, exactly as I had seen them depicted in paintings and photographs. We arrived to a warm welcome from Bebe Bourke and the smell of a delicious supper. The evening was spent talking about flax weaving (which was happening before my eyes), candle making, the Hokianga Wearable Arts Show, the conference, the garden, Clarehouse and life in general. It was so peaceful and quiet, I felt immediately at home and had one of the best nights sleep…ever, in the ‘best bed in the house’.

The next day was Sunday and we visited an ailing Auntie Rina for a home Mass. Just a small group which included Marilyn, who is a midwife and who is joining the French team Medicine sans Frontiers on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border to work with the women in the camps there. Such selfless action is humbling. Marilyn also had the most beautiful singing voice. The service was tender and warm in a way that’s not easy to put into words, but in that small sunny corner of Aotearoa, I faced some of my sadnesses and felt at peace doing so.

I was to experience that tenderness and warmth over and over again as the day unfolded. We all went up to Joseph and Catherine Land’s place, on St Francis CW Farm for lunch, where I was warmly welcomed into their home. What an amazing experience – I fear this short article may go on forever if I try to list the people I met, the conversations I had, and the happy, busy and productive activities I observed. Everyone was interesting and interested – I needed to stay a week, at least, to even start to get to know everyone – yet it didn’t matter that we had just met, I felt a part of it all.

I do however, just have to mention some of my impressions. The families’ self sufficiency was inspiring. I have a great admiration for their philosophy on life and their courage and steadfastness at living true to their beliefs. It was wonderful to see all ages – I met three generations of the Land Family, from Judith and Peter to baby Adam. The meals seemed to be prepared with such ease from the open fire, home grown, healthy and really tasty. Everyone seemed to know their role in the smooth running of family life. In this day and age, with the harmful influences of the screen, be it TV, computers or (most damaging) video games – it was heartening to see the children free of these – playing real games, talking, talking, talking to each other and to the adults, and the wonderful experience of storytelling around the fire in the evenings.

My last morning at Clarehouse was spent firstly in early morning prayer, with the harbour and flame trees in bloom as a backdrop. A friend dropped by to check out the progress of the garden project – several plots where fruit and vegetables were mostly thriving despite ferocious winds the previous week. Later on some local children called in to see Bebe, who provided them with paints and stencils – they were obviously regular visitors in the school holidays!

We returned to the farm for a special Mass, another shared meal and finally, sadly, to say goodbye.

I will remember my first visit to the CW community in the Far North with that same tenderness and warmth and look forward to my next visit. Thank you Bebe, Auntie Rina and all at St Francis Farm – especially Catherine, Joseph and Gilbert – for a very special time.

—Mary Hancox

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