Samoans divided in church rift
A rift in Wellington’s Catholic Church is said to have driven many Samoan Christians away from the church for the past six months.
Leaupepe Anthony Leaupepe, a Samoan parishioner at St Anne’s Church in Newtown, said a paid lay co-ordinator for the church’s Samoan chaplaincy had been appointed, replacing a priest.
The new co-ordinator had interfered with the way Samoan Catholics practised their faith and their culture within the church, he said.
The Samoan chaplaincy had existed for 50 years, but ‘‘ none of us are going to church now’’.
Archbishop John Dew said all catechists and leaders of the 13 Samoan communities were informed of the appointment in May.
‘‘The person was not appointed in place of a priest. Several priests who speak Samoan have been celebrating the Samoan masses for the last few months,’’ Archbishop Dew said.
Mr Leaupepe said the Samoan section of the church had been split.
Many Samoan Christians were no longer attending regular Sunday Mass.
‘‘At Newtown we normally have an 11 o’clock mass, but that has been cancelled until we obey him.
‘‘At the moment we are just meeting in our community group to discuss it and find a way forward.’’
The rift had affected churches as far afield as Levin, Mr Leaupepe said.
Of the 12 Samoan Catholic churches in the region, only the Stokes Valley and Taita congregations had agreed with the archbishop’s changes. Thousands in the region had been affected, Mr Leaupepe said.
A spokeswoman for Our Lady of Fatima church in Tawa confirmed she had heard something was going on, but referred questions to Archbishop Dew.
Samoans appeared to still be attending the church, she said.
A spokeswoman for St Andrew’s in Newlands did not know anything about a rift and said Samoans were still attending church.
Mr Leaupepe said the stand-off had been going on for six months.
‘‘I believe that it is our right to go about our lives in our own way and practise our faith in our own way. ‘‘At the moment, the process is stalled. ‘‘It has been six months so far, moving to Christmas and it’s not moving forward.’’
Archbishop Dew said he had held meetings with the Samoan community and with several community leaders in the past few weeks.
He had also arranged for two priests to be sent to the Archdiocese of Wellington, but the process was dependent on them obtaining visas.
‘‘In addition, I held a major meeting 10 days ago and explained the above to the Samoan community.
‘‘I am also currently meeting with the catechist couples one-by-one to discuss these matters with them.
Catechist couples are those appointed by the Archbishop to work with the priest or lay leader in charge of a parish in order to provide pastoral, spiritual and sacramental care for the Samoan communities, Archbishop Dew said.