Reprinted from The Common Good, No 40, Lent 2007

Jan 21 – 24, 2007

We were unsure when and where to hold this next Catholic Worker hui. But at a meeting, Teresa Dickson, our eldest member, says if we don’t get on with it and have it now and in Jerusalem, she is going up there herself to have it. Because she could be dead if we wait another year, or a few months even. So we come to Hiruharama, forty of us from both islands.

Hiruharama opens the heart and soul, brings clarity to the mind and body. This place holds sacredness in its being. This village has been wrought out by human hands, not by machines, so everything in the village is human size – the church, the whare, the houses, all built in perfect proportions. The wharenui sleeps around thirty people. Sleeping here in the small whare, I feel whole.

Ron of Ngati Hau says this place has it own rhythm, draws people to itself at intervals and then has a quiet time for a while a lull and then it opens itself again. There is here an ancient whare wananga, that carries the mauri of this place. He can feel it now, beginning to open itself again. Feels like the mauri of the place and the ancestors and the kaumatua of Hiruharama come in and carry us through the hui, the powhiri, the korero, the food preparation, the clean up, the poroporoaki.. Hemi Baxter says there are three taniwha in the river and the one at Hiruharama is a good taniwha. No one has drowned in this part of the river.

When he was in Dunedin, Baxter had a dream that he was to go to Jerusalem and set up a community there. So he hitched and walked his way up the Whanganui River to Hiruharama/Jerusalem. Ngati Hau and the Sisters of Compassion found him a house to rent. Up here at Jerusalem. like us, he read Peter Maurin. On Tuesday night we pass Jim Baxter’s poems around the whare, reading a poem each, one that touches us. He understands how walking barefoot connects you with the soul of the earth, with the mauri, and this way you can feel your way safely in the dark. The five water worn stones he carries, arohanui – love of the many; manuhiritanga – hospitality to the stranger; korero – talk that begets peace and understanding; matewa – the night life of the soul; mahi – manual work undertaken from communal love. I would change Baxter’s riverstone of korero to whakarongo – to listen with all of one’s senses.

Morning prayer at dawn in the whare, the Our Father in Maori, our own prayers… E te Ariki whakarongo mai kia matou… waiata in Maori, this language in which it is easy to pray, in which you can say beautiful things to each other that would never cross your lips in English.

On the first day we talk about a CW vocation. Joseph says the more times he decides he has enough and says no to another choice of consuming, ironically the more wealthy he feels. He says over-consumption takes us away from ourselves. It’s the achilles heel of our society, the place where we get caught, and then wonder what’s wrong, why we don’t feel right and then go on and purchase another thing and yet another thing to get a good feeling and the feeling comes momentarily and then is gone and we’re at it again.

When I say enough is enough, no matter at what point I stop the endless consumption of goods and services, I become satisfied, the feeling of joy comes.

Our Houses/Farms of Hospitality are often small, as Jim Baxter’s wife, Jacqui, says in one of his poems, “We can put up one or two”, and that is how we do it. Unlike Baxter, usually we have only one or two staying at any one time. Sometimes for long periods, we have no one extra, but we do pray together regularly, provide kai, a listening ear, a good cuppa, manual labour, gardens, a workshop, or a walk and a talk.

Different Houses of Hospitality work with different sorts and ages of people. Some folk have teenagers stay, others have old people, ex prisoners, refugees, children, families visiting prisoners, ex-psychiatric patients, travellers or some sort of mix of the above. It

just depends what suits the people and the House, this becomes the mahi of the House.

In all of the Houses we have regular communal prayer and we have a support group of people who meet regularly to support the House or Houses. Some of the Houses are named – Clarehouse, St Francis Farm, Suzanne Aubert House, Joseph Cardijn House, Thomas Merton House – some are unnamed, but still do the mahi. Some folk care for elderly or sick relations or children in their Houses of Hospitality.

The urupa where Hemi Baxter is buried, beside Aunty Reina’s cousin and her tane, high above the river, looks across the treetops to the spire of the St Josephs’ church. After I have been to the urupa, I take off my shoes and never put them on again touching the wood floors in my barefeet the wet grass the odd stone underfoot. And it is here on the Wednesday, the final day, we have Mass at dawn in the church of Father Te Awhitu, the first Maori priest, the church of Mother Mary Suzanne Aubert, the church of Jim Hemi Baxter.

Dominican friar Peter Murnane shares his insights into Catholic social teachings, the ‘dynamite’ of the Church which Peter Maurin said had been ‘wrapped in nice phraseology and placed in a hermetic container. Its time to blow off the lid.’ Gerard Burns gives thoughtful insight into current life in East Timor. And Sam Land from the Hokianga talks about travelling with the Brisbane Catholic Worker people to Pine Gap to protest against the US base there and against the Australian involvement in Iraq. Sam was arrested there with several others. He talks about how it felt and why he took this action. Sam and Arthur and Lynette talk about the Waihopai action just out of Blenhiem, this year being the 20th anniversary of the first action against the US Spy Base here in Te Wai Pounamu. In the late afternoon catherine facilitates as we go around talking about our mahi and the Houses of Hospitality over the last year.

Like a bell from a small clay coloured church with a red painted roof and a slim heavenward pointing spire, the mauri of Hiruharama rings through me and I can’t shake it off. On the second night, the moon is shaped like a boat above the hill, we see the comet falling through the sky. The small simple white painted whare with the red roof, an entrance door and two windows on either side beckoning. Walk through the dark, the matewa, across the wet grass to the whare, barefoot on wet damp grass, all the stars out in the sky. Warm inside the whare, people sleeping, one beside the other, all around the walls of the whare. The ancestors of the marae, on the furthest wall. All the people sleeping safe and warm inside the body of the whare, safe and warm and whole.

River swimming, rock, stone, mud sticking to my toes. River big and brown and old. Moving, moving in my sleep at night high above the river. River touching, river talking.

Swimming wide across the river, floating downstream in the current of the river, river taking us on her back.

Thank you to all the people who came from throughout the islands, to Aunty Reina, Joseph, Nicholas, Sue, Jim, Peter, Jill, Catherine, Gerard, Lynette, Denis, Sam, the kaikaranga, the kaikorero, the kaiwhakahaere who ran the workshops, the Masses, the morning prayer. Aunty Isabel and all the people who bought and prepared the kai and washed up, the young people and the tamariki who came bringing their own special gifts. And above all the people, tangata whenua of Hiruharama, nga tupuna and the living, Ngati Hau and the Sisters of Compassion who cut the grass, tend the gardens, maintain the buildings and who care for and who make Hiruharama, as Noel Ginn so eloquently put it, “a place of loveliness in this unquiet world’.


Morning mist hanging low

Whanganui waters murky deep dark

Swirling drifting by

Church sitting high on hill

Spire piercing horizon

Iron roof ,gleaming oxide red

Boards shining yellow ochre

St Joseph and Jesus wave

Three woman bare footed

Walking slowly up the hill

Dong dong dong dong

She calls us in

Adorned with tutu pannnels

Maori Madonna and Jesus on the wall

Carved altar, paua eyes shining out.

Peace be with

Morning mist hanging low

Whanganui waters murky deep dark

Swirling drifting by

Catholic Worker Hui 2006

Jerusalem (Hiruharama)


Gentle name for a gentle green valley

With proud steepled church

Built by penitent pakeha

And reworked by the tangata whenua


Sometime home and final resting place of Hemi

Bright white river stone

In a quiet flowered graveyard

Hidden away


Home of the Sisters of Compassion

Living among the people

Once a sanctuary for the poor, orphaned and needy

Still offering hospitality


Being called on to the marae

And immediately moving

Into that space, that feeling

Knowing we are coming together again

To share, encourage, support and learn from one another

To listen and talk

To sing and recite

To eat and sleep

To walk and swim in the mighty Whanganui river

Under the bridge

And the watchful eye of the taniwha

To celebrate Eucharist

Under the gaze of Mother Aubert

The Maori Madonna and the carved Trinity

And now with hearts and minds refreshed

We continue on…………..

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