Benedict XVI Mourns Death of Maori Queen

Message Sent to New Zealand at Passing of Dame Te Atairangikaahu

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI expressed sorrow for the death of the queen of New Zealand's indigenous Maori, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and sent a message of sympathy to her relatives and people.



In a telegram sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Pope assured the deceased sovereign's loved ones of his prayer at this time of national mourning.

"The Holy Father commends the late Dame Te Atairan to the loving mercy of Almighty God and invokes upon the country the divine gifts of consolation and peace," stated the message, published today by the bishops' conference of New Zealand.

The queen died Aug. 15 at age 75 from kidney failure.

The country's Catholic episcopate confirmed that the vicar general of the Diocese of Hamilton, Monsignor David Bennett, along with other Church officials paid their respects Aug. 17 to the deceased queen at Turangawaewae Marae, while awaiting the arrival from Australia of Bishop Denis Browne of Hamilton, president of the New Zealand bishops' conference.

In his absence, Monsignor Bennett, on behalf of New Zealand bishops and particularly of Catholic Maori and the Hamilton Diocese, expressed his prayerful condolences to Dame Te Ata's family.

"Many have attested to her qualities of leadership," he said, stressing her sincerity, graciousness, gentleness and humility.

Ties with Church

Monsignor Bennett spoke of the friendship and personal regard between the queen and the first Catholic Maori prelate, Auxiliary Bishop Takuira Max Mariu of Hamilton, who died last December at 53.

During his 1986 visit to New Zealand, Pope John Paul II also had a cordial meeting with Dame Te Ata.

The vicar general of Hamilton mentioned that in 1981, when Bishop Edward Gaines was installed as the first Catholic Bishop of Hamilton, "Dame Te Ata presented him with a carved crozier. And when Bishop Denis Browne was installed as the second bishop of Hamilton, Dame Te Ata brought the crozier forward again to give it to him. This crozier is always used by the bishop in our cathedral church."

"The fact that people of diverse cultures and backgrounds are coming in great numbers to Turangawaewae to pay her tribute, attests to the way in which Dame Te Ata brought peoples and cultures closer together," observed Monsignor Bennett.

The new Maori king is the son of Dame Te Ata. Vatican Radio reported on Monday that Tuheitia Paki, 51, assumed his duties, according to tradition, while his mother was being buried on Taupiri mountain, where all Maori sovereigns are buried.

Thousands of faithful attended the ceremony, including New Zealand's prime minister and numerous representatives of the government and other Pacific countries.

The new king will have the task to continue his mother's legacy, which kept the various Maori tribes united and obtained positive results in the area of territorial and political rights for her people, commented Vatican Radio.

Tuheitia Paki is the seventh king since New Zealand's indigenous monarchy was instituted in 1858 to counteract the colonization of the territories.

About 500,000 of New Zealand's 4 million inhabitants are Catholics.