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The Good Portion

 The Good Portion

As I begin my noviciate at the friary in Hamilton,  I still get asked what brought me over here from Italy. I have also found out some people thought I came straight all the way from Europe to join the Society of S. Francis over here! In reality, my story with SSF started over one year ago in America, where I first met the Brothers and had a first experience in the life of the community. I was already living in New Zealand at that time and I was in New York to visit some friends. I came across the Friary of Little Portion almost by chance, for I was looking  for a retreat centre and that place came up first on the list.  When I got back to NZ, I got in touch with the brothers in Hamilton and after a while I began living with them.

I have to say neither Franciscan life nor religious life were totally unknown to me: the former because S.Francis (we call him Francesco) , S.Clare ( Chiara) and their spirituality go way beyond religion in Italy and they are deeply and truly interwoven with the local culture and the way of living  and the latter because I had already had a period of discernment  in a Benedictine monastery. In fact I have an enduring conviction that I was called to religious life long ago and that in spite of attempts to have a regular life, I have always had this strong sense of call reaffirmed.

The community life here doesn’t differ too much from bigger religious houses around the world. We live under a rule and a we treasure the life of prayer, the liturgy of the hour, the possibility of listening to the Word of God and above all the holy eucharist, but also our community  seeks to be open, to welcome and listen to all, to share the joy and hope as well as the sorrow and distress of all people.

The life of each brother is centered on the service of praise offered to God in prayer and on the service offered to others through work, hospitality offered to guests, and service offered to the church and to different Christian churches and agencies.

Nevertheless, this way of life might sound quite odd to someone, but in fact I believe that by answering this call, we are not undertaking a new way of living the Gospel and we are not alone on this road travelled by many Christians over the centuries. Before us, others with the same vocation, expressed in different ways according to the times and places in which they lived, have made this journey: Elijah and John the Baptist, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Benedict and Scholastica, Francis and Claire, and many others.

After all, monks and nuns, present in the church from the first centuries, are men and women who live their Christian vocation as a radical commitment, often at the margins of society and of the visible church, even at the cost of being marginalized. The monk looks toward the city and the church and remains in contact with them, never separating himself but expressing his complete solidarity through his prayer and intercession. He sometimes addresses a word or gesture to the city and church, or addresses them through his silence; but some of the time, in order to protect what has been entrusted to him, he finds it necessary to turn toward the desert, giving the impression that he has turned his back on the city and the church. But this turning away is in no way a gesture of disrespect: it is simply a sign of his thirst to return to God, in silence and attention.

Despite sharing so much of this vision, we need to say though that franciscan spirituality is not monastic: rather than fleeing the word to find God, it seeks God in the world. Typical Franciscan idea is “the world is my cloister”.

 Francis had a deep experience of God in the run-down church of San Damiano:  facing the wounded Christ on the cross, he met the God of compassionate love, who delights to be with the simple and those rejected by the world. In that image, he discovered his own wounds and the deeper he entered into the mystery of Christ in his own life, the more he saw Christ in everyone and everything around him.

The God Francis saw wasn’t the one asking for offerings or sacrifices but He was the one offering himself, sacrificing himself, giving himself to all His creature so that we could have life. Francis understood that it is God who is coming to seek us in order to be in communion with us. The central act of our worship, the eucharist, is our way to respond to that and our thanksgiving to God, who allowed us to take part in His life.

In fact, all of our life should be a thanksgiving to God. Few things make me feel guilty like not dedicating enough time to prayer and praise to God. When that happens, I recall the word of Jesus to his disciples in the garden of the Gethsemane: “Could you not watch one hour with me?”(Mt 26.40) He was asking them to watch with him, to wait and be awake with him in the hour of crisis.

 How many of us still immerse ourselves in activity, rushing everywhere, busy, busy, busy because the call of Jesus to “keep watch and wait” seems too great a challenge. Yes, keeping watch is certainly one of the hardest things. Gethsemani reminds us that what we are asked to do is something more simple and difficult than springing into action. We are asked to “be” rather than “do”.

  Francis himself was a man of prayer, even though his ministry to the lepers and his preaching the gospel seem to have overshadowed the centrality of prayer in his way of life. Certainly Francis considered prayer as the basis for following Christ as it is shown in all his writings.

As we follow in the footsteps of Francis and Clare, we are not trying to preserve a strange relic from the Middle Age, but even in the 21st century a life of renunciation and sacrifice is still a mean by which we can obtain true freedom, even though it sounds like a paradox. The way of the Gospel is the opposite of the common mentality and we can really find ourselves once we give up our own will and surrender to God. Instead, our modern culture is more and more obsessed with individualism and consumerism and we live in the illusion that the more we have the happier we are. But such behavior has quite a devastating impact on our life and on our natural environment.  As Christmas approaches and the race to get presents for family and friends and to organize parties starts, it might be useful to remember the answer of Jesus to Martha, who was left alone serving the Lord while her sister Mary was sitting at his feet listening to his teaching: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10.42). This good portion is all we need.

Br Simone n/ssf





Brother Colin R.I.P.

Brother Colin ssf  … Haere Ra Koro


 In 1970 four Brothers from four nations and three different SSF Provinces were chosen to pioneer our Franciscan First Order presence in Aotearoa New Zealand. One of them was a large Solomon Islander – Brother Colin – from Malaita. They were first at St Francis House, Greys Avenue, Auckland and then at St Mary’s Vicarage, Glen Innes.

 Colin was one of the first Solomon Islanders to come to test his vocation as a friar at what is now known as Haruro (formerly Jegerata) near Popondetta in Papua New Guinea. The other two were Michael Davis, who died in 1989 and Comins Romano who returned to Haruro this year from the Solomons for the celebration in July of our being 50 years in Papua New Guina. Both were from the island of Ulawa. These three Solomon Island Brothers had come to join SSF before there was a friary in the Solomons. Colin had previously resided and worked at Pawa boys’ secondary school on Ugi Island. Now we have to record that he has died in the general hospital in Honiara after a long illness, aged 73. He was professed in 1969.

 Colin had become the “patriarch” of our Brothers in the Solomons, being wise and faithful, though a little too fond of bettlenut. Many people sought his advice and encouragement. Having an infectious sense of humour he could tell many good stories and was a gentle mimic. He played the guitar and had a good bass voice. He was a reader but often admitting that “this book is too big for my head”. His sermons were powerfully delivered. He hated nonsense and pretence. And having a keen understanding of justice he founded and managed a school for girls at Fouala-a whom he felt were deprived of educational opportunities compared with boys. This was his main work in the second half of his Franciscan life. He was ordained priest at a late age at the hands of the then Bishop of Malaita.

 May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Te Ara Hou Celebrates Ten Years


Celebration powhiri

Celebration powhiri

The social services village Te Ara Hou (The New Way) celebrated its 10th anniversary this month with a party attended by local dignitaries, agency workers, clients, residents and people from the neighbourhood.

 In pre-European times the land was a village, Mangaonua, resourcing the local tribes with food from the stream and crops. After the land wars it became a sizeable farm which was later subdivided. The present site became a residence for the Society for the Intellectually Handicapped, Christopher Park. From there it became Chanel Park the headquarters for the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

 In 1999 the land and buildings were purchased by the Hamilton City Council in order to facilitate the founding a social work village. To this end they retained ownership of part of the land and on-sold the buildings to a Trust set up for the purpose of operating and promoting the Village and to promote social services generally in the Waikato region. The remainder of the land was purchased by the Anglican Diocese of Waikato in order to preserve the potential of a village concept.

 Te Ara Hou (The New Way) is an innovative village where we work together to respond holistically to meet people’s needs: a community of agencies collaborating for the benefit of all. The village honours the partnership inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

 The friary moved to Te Ara Hou in December 2001 and is an integral part of the village. The friary offers spiritual resources and encouragement for the staff of the various agencies on site; daily chapel offices and eucharist; hospitality to guests and visitors; and a place of peace, quiet and refreshment in the midst of an often hectic and confusing setting.

 The present village is a model of co-operation and a tribute to the foresight of those who worked so hard for the vision they held.

 Congratulations Te Ara Hou!

Jubilee Papua New Guinea

50th Anniversary Celebration in Papua New Guinea

32 Dancers

The 50th Anniversary of the arrival of the First Order Franciscan Brothers in Papua New Guinea was celebrated at the Haruro Friary, near Popondetta. Franciscan Brothers and Sisters came from many parts of the world. It was a great day of Papuan-New Guinea celebration: well planned and organised by our PNG Brothers.

 A large number of Orokaiva dancers in traditional dress with their drums: singing and dancing led the procession for the Eucharist. Throughout the service there were points at which there was dancing by representative groups of Franciscan Brothers, Sisters of the Visitation, Melanesian Brothers, theological college students and the local Sunday school — all done so reverently.

 The President of the Eucharist was the Bishop of Popondetta, Joseph Kopapa. I was privileged to be the preacher. We tried not only to recall the past with thanksgiving, but to be aware of the challenges of the present, and the need to take risks in faith and hope for the future, seeing religious orders as beacons of light.

 At the end of the service the dancers led us all to a shrine in the garden where deceased brothers are recalled, especially two Papuans, Philip and Timothy Joseph and American Brother Justus, who was the Principal of Newton College. A plaque was unveiled and blessed by Brother Clark Berge. The Minister General of the Third Order, Rev Dorothy Brooker was present as this also marked the beginning of the Third Order.

 Feasting and dancing with drama followed. Nearly a thousand people were present. Much food; pigs, poultry and vegetables, had been cooked through the night. Speeches were given by people of the wider community. Oliver Ambo, the deputy Governor and son of late Bishop George Ambo, spoke of behalf of the Government and Bishop Joseph Kopapa on behalf of the church.

 Gifts were exchanged and Brother Lawrence Hauje spoke for the province. The proceedings concluded with evening prayer led by Bishop Tevita Talanoa. It had been an exhilarating and exhausting day and one long to be remembered.

 This event was commemorating not only what is happening in PNG but also throughout the South Pacific. From PNG the First and Third Orders of SSF have spread to the Solomon Islands, Australia and New Zealand and beyond to Asia. One of the reasons Bishop Philip Strong invited the Society to come was his firm belief that there would be vocations to the Franciscan way of the Religious Life among Melanesians. This visit showed me that there was not only an increase in the number of Brothers but also in maturity. There are now thirty brothers in PNG, all of whom are local people and a larger number in the Solomon Islands. We can give thanks to God.

 Br Brian SSF.

43 Brothers processing


   38 Hururo Friary


   46 Bishop Jo presiding


44 Led by the dancers


   53 The sisters bring their gifts


   26 Br Brian & airport welcome party

Te Hurihanga Opening

After living in the centre of a construction site for the past several months the brothers were pleased to be present at the opening of Te Hurihanga, our nearest neighbour in the Te Ara Hou village.

The formal proceedings began on Monday 23rd April with the naming and prayers led by kaumatua and tohunga from Ngati Haua followed by speeches and breakfast prepared by Te Ropu Takarangi (a part of Anglican Action).

On Friday 27th April the Minister of Justice together with Judge Caroline Henwood (the initiator and driving force for the project) opened the new facility with a large crowd of supporters and well-wishers.

The facility will take young male offenders (14-17yrs) in an intensive two-year programme to integrate them into positive community relationships. The first six to eight months will see the young men as neighbours to the friary, and the brothers see themselves very much as supportive neighbours to them. This pilot project is the first of its kind in New Zealand.

The Te Ara Hou site was specifically chosen because of the supportive environment such a Christian social services village can offer. We wish the Te Hurihanga project every blessing.

Affirmation for Hamilton Friary

For several months the brothers of the Province have been seriously reviewing our presence in New Zealand. A variety of reasons has reduced our numbers here to the point where we are now two; Brian and Damian Kenneth.

The Provincial Chapter meeting at Brisbane, 16th – 18th April 2007 reports that “both Brian and Damian Kenneth are happy to continue living in the friary as a praying presence, and in fact are already doing so. Chapter affirms them in this and assures them of the support of this Province and that their presence in Hamilton is greatly valued”.

One of the factors in this decision of the Chapter was the impressive volume of support from many facets of the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand for the ministry of the friary. For this support we are truly grateful.

We will be supported in community by our two Companion Brothers, Matua David and Doug Pratt together with the community of Te Ara Hou Village and the visit of other brothers from the Province from time to time. There will obviously need to be some variation to our ministries with the reduction in our numbers and a need to be prudent in the assignments we accept.

It is our fervent prayer that by maintaining our presence in New Zealand that we can provide the opportunity for young men called by God to the Franciscan religious life. The prayers and support of all our followers is essential and we ask you for a special effort in this regard as we move into a new phase of our being here.

Please celebrate with us the affirmation and support of our presence in Hamilton.

Kentigern Returns to UK

Provincial Chapter in 2004 elected Kentigern John as our friary Guardian for a three year term. He has now completed that term and as we write is on his way back to the United Kingdom. This was his second term in New Zealand; he had previously spent two years here while we were at Vaughan Park and when we moved to Hamilton.

During this term he was a caring and much appreciated Guardian. His involvement in voluntary ministry at Anglican Action and the University Chaplaincy is highly regarded. At Anglican Action he supervised the Community Counseling Service; a gold-coin operation using senior counseling students from Wintec, Te Whiuwhiu and the Bible College.  He was a volunteer at the Men’s Night Shelter in the city, involved in inner-city ministry, and a part of the team setting up the ministry at 1190. Kentigern has had a huge impact on the native trees and shrubs planted around the friary during his time with us.

We are most grateful for his willingness to come to the other side of the world to help us with our friary and we wish him well on his return to the UK and the ministry he will take there.

Like the kotuku who comes in a passing visit we have been much blessed by his time with us.

Te Hurihanga – breaking the ground

On 3rd October 2006 (the Transitus of St Francis) the friars took part in the ceremony to break the ground to begin the construction of the buildings which will make up Te Hurihanga – the Youth Justice house next to the Friary.

The afternoon began with a powhiri where Ngati Haua and te iwi o Te Ara Hou welcomed senior members of the Ministry of Justice and the members of Youth Horizons Trust, accompanied by the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, their spouses and Personal Assistants meeting in Hamilton at the time, and many other local supporters. Strong support was vocalized and pledged during the speeches,

The combined group the moved to the site of the front door of the new building and karakia accompanied the turning of the first sod by Kaumatua Anaru Tamihana of Ngti Haua and Archbishop David Moxon, Bishop of Waikato. Further expressions of support came from a number of speakers.

A group of local residents objecting to the project staged a protest at the front entrance to Te Ara Hou and the Waikato Times showed a photo on the front page of Br Kentigern captioned as Peacemaker (a very Franciscan role).

Of course we then moved to the cuppa!

For assistance with the translation of Maori words we use the Ngata Dictionary.

Minister Provincial TSSF

 Revd Dorothy Brooker was elected Minister General for the Third Order at the recent International Chapter in Canterbury. As a result Revd John Hebenton was elected Minister Provincial for Aotearoa New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The photo shows the hand over of the Melanesian Cross at a service at Mount Maunganui in April.


Young Adults’ Weekend

Over a recent weekend 16 young adults gathered at the camp on the Riches farm at Hikumutu, near Taumarunui for time of study, discussion and fellowship.

The Revd Jemma Allen, Ecumenical Chaplain to Waikato University was the discussion leader for the weekend and Wade Aukett the organizer.

Free time was spent on a horse-back trek across the scenic farmland, and the photo shows Wade on Big Red.

A highlight of the weekend was the sumptuous dinner on Saturday night.

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