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Christchurch Faithfest


On Sunday (24 November), the Feast of Christ the King, over 8,000 Roman Catholics of the Christchurch Diocese gathered in one of the few large-gathering-places left in our quake-damaged city to celebrate the Eucharist together.

The day included an expo, cultural festival, and an ecumenical choral celebration. Bishop Barry Jones wrote, “Together we will thank God for his blessings, listen to his Word, profess our faith as one, join with Jesus in offering our lives to the Father, and be strengthened in love by receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.”

Now I don’t want to give into a common obsession (idolatry?) about numbers. Numbers are not everything, certainly. And small is often beautiful. But, on the other hand, numbers are not nothing. [And worse, IMO, is when we make significant decisions based on incorrect numbers, or exaggerated numbers creating a top-heavy administration machine that bears little relationship to the real needs “on the ground”.]

What other denomination could have organised such a mass gathering? For worship primarily, but also a witness of hope to a community that although bearing the name, “Christchurch” and nationally regularly addressing the “God of nations at thy feet…” is generally touted as secular? Did Anglicans here have 5% of this turnout at the (post-quakes) last visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

What might be some of the healthy dynamics of Roman Catholicism that lead to being able to hold an event like this and that others can learn from?

  • A primary focus on worship and spirituality.
  • Schools. Roman Catholic schools are a primary instrument of education and formation, of mission and ministry.
  • Homogeneity in worship. The expectation is that you go to worship on Sunday, the focus is less on the individual community where you participate, and so when you travel (or when quakes destroy your building) you can move more easily from one worshipping community to another.
  • Well-trained and formed clergy.

Ps. Did you notice in the above photograph that the Carmelites left their enclosure to share in this diocesan event?

UPDATE: there are photos available on the diocesan site’s page now. The Cultural Festival photos. The Choral Festival photos.

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11 thoughts on “Christchurch Faithfest”

  1. As an Aucklander we had a much lower key clsoing of the door. The photo you have chosen to post shows enclosed religious out for the day, other male and female religios, an aging and overly ethnic congregartion. Creativity in worhsip or homogeneity? Well trained and formed in clergy? in liturgy?? Reading from a Missal is a bad test of good liturgy. Do only Catholics recive Jesus? in Holy Communion?? And schools, how many backsides that sit on a school chair sit on a Sunday pew? In fact the act of walking away by our youth may be the best testament to seach for a meaninful faith. A fest, a festival perhaps is putty in the cracks, but it surely does not give an indication of faith and hope. Aging congregations, aging religious, and a hemorrhaging of Pakeha and Moari from the pews all that this is an expo of.

    1. Phillip, the reason you see an ageing congregation in that particular photo is because the seating on the floor of the stadium was reserved for the elderly and disabled who would have struggled to walk up the stairs into the stands at the side. I was there and there were plenty of children and young people.

  2. Well Phillip; I have to say you have revealed you know rather little about the Roman Diocese of Christchurch. Its youth ministry is among the most robust I know: I have had one son lead extensively, and now a daughter and future-son-in-law involved too. Solid diocesan resources for a number of years are bearing real fruit. While ‘ethnic’ factors surely bolster stats, there is a wholesome backbone of ‘Europeans’ here – and NI Maori are welcome too! And BTW, as a non RC who went to a ticket-only festival, and so an eye-witness, the age range was fulsome.

    Thanks for this post Bosco: yet there’s always the Ordinariate, matey!

    1. Good liturgy is never an event. It is both worship of God and unity of believers. What is your measure of robust Youth Ministry? Attendance at events? All are welcome, yes, and maybe the photo Bosco choose was rather limited, but, but other photos online show a lot of males in vestments, hardly testament to a gathering of the People of God, who by their baptism are priest as well.

  3. Well Phillip; let me say again: I was there! And so I don’t need any photos, posted by anyone – just my own eyes.

    Thereafter, I would evaluate the notion of “robust” by their giving up of time to attend weekly meetings, in their learning to pray together and alone, in their reading of the Scriptures and even to join in daily office formats of one kind or another – online, via apps (we are talking abt the youth!), printed means like Magnificat, etc. And then on manifesting these means of faithful discipleship in acts of mercy and social concern: Chch has been a rather fruitful field for all such things these past years. Finally, there is the matter of numbers, especially when one compares the front door vs. the back door, of how many leave – or rather do not leave – in the end.

    As for events: have you heard of the 3 Cs? Cell, congregation, and celebration, each describes gatherings and their respective sizes, all of which together achieve a certain perspective upon The People of God’s true nature and functionality. And of course the largest celebrations really come into their own in arenas with 8000+ folk of all ages and stages. Immanuel!

    1. The thing I enjoyed about Faithfest was the communal joy. My kids were inspired from being part of such a massive gathering and I spent the whole day catching up with people. One of the Carmelite sisters told me that this was what Heaven must be like, seeing everyone they knew and loved and having hugs.

      It was a very special Mass and I truly felt the Holy Spirit.

  4. “What other denomination could have organised such a mass gathering?”

    I don’t understand this question. What would an answer look like? Why would anyone other than a professional religionista care? What are denominations anyway?

    If it is just mass gathering in the name of Jesus that somehow matters, what about Parachute Music Festival? Been around for a few years now, I do believe … 😉

  5. Thanks, Bosco, for your posting. Some of the responses surprise me. Is it that anti-RC prejudices left over from the Reformation are alive and well in New Zealand today?

    As we well know, the RC Church is far from perfect and there are many views of what constitutes good liturgy. But as one who was involved with last Sunday’s FaithFest, I wish to attest that for me it was a wonderfully uplifting occasion. Many people, self included, were moved to tears at various points.

    As the wider range of photos show, the make up of the congregation was very broad in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity.

    Prasie the Lord!

  6. Bosco, I agree the turnout was impressive. However, part of the crowd was made up of other denominational church choirs and their individual congregations joining in with the Roman Catholics in what was advertised as a ‘Royal School of Church Music Festival’ – RSCM being originally, and primarily, a Church of England (Anglican) based organisation. I know that our choir from St. Michael and All Angels, and many of our congregation were there at some point in the proceedings. Perhaps at least part of the gathering was ecumenical rather than only R.C.

    One thing Roman Catholics are good at, is getting people to attend Special Celebration of the Mass, which, after all, is Christ personified. Not as bad idea after all. These Christ-centred meetings of the faithful are certainly to be encouraged!

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron. I think you are referring to the evening ecumenical choral celebration rather than the morning Mass. As I mentioned in my second paragraph, there were different events happening throughout the day. Blessings.

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