A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Pilgrimage 2012

Our Lady of Kapiti, St Patrick’s Parish

Paraparaumu February 12, 2012

Pilgrims begin climb to statue

Every year on or around the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (Feb 11) the parishioners of St Patrick’s, Paraparaumu, near Wellington NZ, walk in pilgrimage from their church up a nearby hill to honour Mary in her apparitions in Lourdes in 1858. They are joined by pilgrims from around the region. Sunday 12 February, 2012 was brilliantly fine and nearly windless. The enormous white statue stood out against the blue sky.

The statue (14 metres high) dominates the Northern approach to Paraparaumu along State Highway 1, and was erected in 1958 for the Centenary of the Lourdes Apparitions. It was commissioned by Fr Jack Dunn, pastor of St Patrick’s at the time, and blessed by Archbishop McKeefrey on October 19, 1958 before 6000 people including 1000  who had travelled by train from Auckland.

The statue is the work of Dutch artist Martin Roestenberg. He built the 2-metre head at his home in Taihape and supervised the construction of the body with 4 metre wide shoulders on site. The massive hollow structure with its internal staircase is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Seventeen bulbs light up the statue at night, and fishing boats guide themselves by them. At the base of the statue are the famous words spoken by Mary to St Bernadette during the seventeenth apparition.”I am the Immaculate Conception”

Music group and leaders in shadow of statue

Not everyone was impressed by the statue at the time. Controversial poet and Catholic convert James K Baxter regarded it as “ a giant ecumenical mistake”. He thought a Baptist motorist would nod and say ‘Yes those Catholics really do worship Mary instead of God’. However Baxter himself had a deep
private devotion to Mary and had not realised it was false Ecumenism to play down devotion to Mary.

Pilgrims arrive at the statue

The statue is less prominent now than it was 54 years ago. The pine trees have grown up around the base and enshrined the statue with pleasant greenery. The steep path with Stations of the Cross is reminiscent of the Outside Stations of the Cross at Lourdes itself , and also the steep streets of the village where Bernadette’s family lived in a flour mill on one of  the several streams in the old village. It is a short solid climb, long enough to sing a few verses of the Lourdes Hymn. At the top there a pleasant clearing with room for a crowd of pilgrims to sit on the grass and under the trees.

The Annual pilgrimage is a time of grace, and a gift to the Archdiocese. It is a public testimony to Faith, and a gracious tribute to Mary and an acknowledgement of her place as Mother of the Church. The statue is a known landmark in a country relatively bereft of Christian iconography. I feel sure that pilots of small planes from nearby Paraparaumu airport use it as a landmark, and possibly breathe a sigh of relief as they dip under cloud cover to land on a wing and a prayer.

Benediction concludes the pilgrimage

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