Archbishop John Dew, 66, leader of the Church in Wellington, New Zealand, first looked to the priesthood because he felt a pull “to be doing something that would make a difference to the lives of others....The call of the Gospel was the only way that made sense for me.”
Roughly 55 percent of New Zealand’s 4.5 million people self-identify as Christian. Of them, only about 12 percent are Catholic. Even so, when Dew was made an auxiliary in Wellington in 1995, Sacred Heart Cathedral couldn’t hold all the people planning to attend. They had to have the event in the Wellington Town Hall instead.
Wellington sits on the southern tip of New Zealand’s northern island; it’s a land of ocean, mountains and earthquakes. In fact, every five years Wellington experiences a year-long non-destructive slow quake beneath the city—if it happened all at once, the quake would be a 7 on the Richter Scale.
But even with that, and despite being the most remote capitol city in the most remote country in the world, Wellington is often reviewed as one of the nicest places on the planet to live.
His episcopal motto “Peace Through Integrity,” Archbishop Dew has long been an advocate for change in the church’s position regarding the divorced and remarried. At the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist he called the issue of the church’s communion ban “a source of scandal” and said the bishops have a “pastoral duty and an obligation before God to discuss and debate this question.” After the 2014 Synod on the Family, he noted how much things had changed; “Nine years ago...I talked about the possibility of Communion for the divorced and remarried and got a lot of criticism. Now at this Synod it’s being talked about openly by many, many people.”
Along with his fellow Pacific Cardinal-designate Soane Mafi of Tonga, Archbishop Dew has committed to keep issues of climate change and human trafficking before the church’s attention. He is the only native English speaker of the 20 new Cardinals Pope Francis selected.
How do you feel about being named Cardinal? How has your family reacted?
I was totally surprised when I heard the news, humbled at the fact that I had been chosen and see this as a huge responsibility. I am profoundly moved by the message of prayerful support and congratulations from people all over the country and from other parts of the world. As I said on one radio interview “I see myself as a very ordinary Kiwi bloke” and therefore am humbled at this honour I have to serve the church.
My family are more excited than I am. They are wonderfully supportive of me and my sisters, brothers- in-law and nieces and nephews are making plans to go to Rome to support me.
What do you hope for the church today?
My hope for the church today is that it be seen to be involved in the lives of those who are struggling for one reason or another; that the church be seen to be offering hope and support and that the Gospel is preached and lived in such a way that it presents Jesus Christ as “fascinating,” “overwhelmingly attractive” and that life does not make sense without him.
What is one message you feel the church should be offering to today’s world?
I have no doubt that the church should be offering a message of hope to those who struggle with life.
What are the most pressing issues facing your region and community?
The on-going challenges of staffing our parishes and therefore the need for laity to be more involved in the life of their parish and to see that being a Catholic is much more than “going to Church”, but it is about social justice, speaking up for the underprivileged and by living the Gospel working to build a better world.
What has your region and your community taught you about God and the church?
That we have wonderful people who are deeply committed to the life of the church, that our church is very rich in gifted people from many different countries who add to the great variety of gifts we have. We have people of all ages and cultures who are willing to give of themselves in service to the church and society and I can only be grateful for that.
We live in a stunningly beautiful part of the world, with spectacular scenery and natural beauty…we have an obligation to protect it.
What’s an image of God, passage from Scripture or figure from church history that you look to for support and encouragement?
I was ordained a priest on Good Shepherd Sunday 1976, that impressed on me that my life was to be like Jesus The Good Shepherd who came so that we might have life and have it to the Full (John 10:100). I have therefore been conscious all my priestly life of trying to be like the Good Shepherd in caring for and showing compassion to others. I also love Psalm 23 and the image on the Lord leading me to refreshing green grass and waters of repose, preparing a table for me, anointing my head with oil and in God’s generosity giving me a cup of abundant blessings, and then God’s goodness and kindness following me every day of my life.
Finally: What are your hopes for next October’s Synod?
That the work of the Synod of October 2014 will continue and that Synod participants will see the need for the church to walk alongside those who find family life difficult and be supportive and helpful to them, rather than what is often seen as judgmental and condemnatory.
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