Update: New Zealand deacon participates in ordination of his son as bishop

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Auxiliary Bishop Michael Gielen of Auckland, New Zealand, poses with his father, Deacon Henk Gielen, after his episcopal ordination Mass at the Vodafone Events Centre March 7, 2020. CNS photo/Felicity Meijer, NZ Catholic

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) — In a first for New Zealand, a permanent deacon participated in the episcopal ordination Mass of his son.

More than 3,000 people from throughout New Zealand attended the March 7 ordination Mass of Bishop Michael Gielen, 48, as an auxiliary bishop of Auckland. Deacon Henk Gielen participated in the Mass, which had strong Maori and Pasifika cultural elements. The Vodafone Events Centre was chosen for the event because St. Patrick’s Cathedral was not large enough to accommodate the expected congregation.

Before the Mass, NZ Catholic newspaper asked Deacon Gielen if he could ever have imagined when his son was growing up in the central North Island forestry town of Tokoroa that the pair of them would one day be flanking Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, with one as a deacon and the other as a new bishop.

“No father knows what will become of their children,” Deacon Gielen said. “But you love them and give them your best and hope they will flourish.”

Deacon Gielen, from the Papamoa Coast, said he is very proud of his son — the oldest of six children in his family.

He said the news that his son was to be a bishop came as something of a shock, and he is still getting used to the idea. But he thinks God called Bishop Gielen to this ministry because “Michael has a heart for (the) less privileged and a heart of compassion.”

Deacon Gielen thinks there probably are other instances in the church where a permanent deacon has a son who is a bishop, but this is the first time it has happened in New Zealand.

March 7-8 was a busy weekend for the Gielen family, with 35 relatives traveling to Auckland for the ordination. Family members had various roles at the ordination Mass, including Deacon Gielen proclaiming the Gospel.

In his words of thanksgiving at the end of the Mass, Bishop Gielen thanked his mother and his father, and all his “precious family” for “your unwavering love, your challenges and your encouragement.”

He made mention of the people watching a livestream of the service, including his sister Liz, who was too pregnant to fly, and her husband Andy, as well as a cousin who is a religious sister in England.

When NZ Catholic asked Deacon Gielen what final word of fatherly advice he might have for his son as a new bishop, he said: “Be a man of prayer, be humble, be compassionate and learn from Bishop Pat.”

Bishop Gielen, who has served as director of formation at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland, spoke in his thanksgiving speech about when he was 7 years old, a time when he was battling with asthma and struggling at school.

“A year later, all that changed. We started going back to Mass as a family. It was like rivers, fresh springs of living water, flowing within us, slowly changing us. And as a little boy, I noticed it.”

It was in Tokoroa that Bishop Gielen was ordained as a priest in 1997 by the late Bishop Max Mariu, who was the first Maori ordained as a Catholic bishop. Bishop Gielen recalled in Auckland that he was the only priest Bishop Mariu had ever ordained.

As well as working in parish ministry in Hamilton Diocese, Bishop Gielen studied at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

“I have good news,” Bishop Gielen said in his thanksgiving speech.

“Whether you are 7 or 70, Jesus loves you,” the new bishop said. “Jesus will never leave you alone. Jesus has amazing things in life for you, whatever your age is, if you trust him and ask him into your life, like my family did. It’s amazing what he can do when we say, ‘yes.’ Thank you for your ‘yes,’ and let us travel together in our waka (Maori canoe), wherever God leads us.”

The apostolic nuncio to New Zealand, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, was unable to attend the ordination Mass after returning from Italy and placing himself in self-isolation for 14 days in line with guidance from New Zealand authorities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The archbishop was not ill.

But the nuncio’s message for the ordination was read by Msgr. Edward Karaan, deputy head of mission and first secretary at the apostolic nunciature in Wellington. Msgr. Karaan asked those present to pray for priestly and religious vocations, and he recalled a December 2015 story about the new bishop.

“In fact, in its December 2015 issue, the NZ Catholic had this featured Catholic news: ‘Holy rollers on a long ride for priesthood.’ It reported that Father Michael Gielen and seven seminarians of the Holy Cross Seminary had cycled for 33 days from Cape Reinga, at the northern end of the North Island, to Bluff, on the southern coast of the South Island, to promote vocations for the priesthood.”

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