CATHEDRAL OF ST PATRICK & ST JOSEPH
PA PETER TIPENE
December 25 may be just one day of the year but for St Patrick’s Cathedral it’s such an important one that planning starts almost immediately after the last one has wrapped up. The Dean of the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph in central Auckland, Pa Peter Tipene, admits that the Cathedral does make “quite the fuss” when it comes to its Christmas décor. A large nativity scene is erected at the start of December, then Christmas trees and floral arrangements are brought in for the week prior to the big day. Pa Peter estimates that over Christmas Day and Christmas Eve more than 8000 people attend one of the six Christmas masses held at St Patrick’s. The cathedral, which seats 900, is often too small to hold the crowds that gather and the overflow spills out into the car park, where large screens are erected so everyone can take part. In the 2013 census, Catholicism overtook Anglicanism as the biggest denomination of Christianity in New Zealand. Peter believes that the growing Catholic population is in part due to the multiculturalism of New Zealand. “It is reflected in our pews. I think here at the cathedral we have about 40 different nationalities who gather, and that’s seen throughout most of Auckland too,” he explains. The congregation at St Patrick’s has had a large influx of Filipino devotees, so much so that the cathedral has started its own Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Christmas tradition of nine dawn masses in the week leading up to Christmas. Being inclusive of a variety of cultures is something Pa Peter is big on. This year, he started to include Te Reo Maori in his sermons, much to the delight of the worshippers. He even had special vestments made for him by an aunt, based on the shape of a korowai (Maori cloak). “When I wear those I get all the oohs and aahs – they say, “Pa, you look fabulous,” and I say, “I know,” laughs Peter. While being involved in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses is special, it does mean priests’ own family celebrations have to fit around them. “My family tradition used to be lunch, but I’d always be late and just fall asleep at the table, so now we do dinner so I can nap first,” jokes Peter. “After the last Christmas mass, we lock the doors and say thank goodness that it’s over!”
Pa Peter estimates more than 8000 people attend Christmas mass at St Patrick’s.