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Gisborne Interfaith Group Celebrates Maori, European, and Polynesian Beginnings 

On Waikanae Beach early Saturday morning, 10 October, Tairawhiti Interfaith Group brought together representatives of eight groups to join with Te Ha 1769 Sestercentennial Trust members marking the beginning of a Week of Prayer for World Peace in Gisborne, New Zealand.

Participants included members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Ringatu, Presbyterian, Buddhist, Muslim, Filipino, Baha’i, and Anglican groups.

The Week of Prayer inaugurated the beginning of celebrations planned by the Te Ha Trust to commemorate the first meeting of the Maori, Polynesian and European peoples when James Cook, aboard the HMS Endeavour, arrived in 1769 in Poverty Bay where Gisborne stands today.

Richard Brooking, Chairman of the Te Ha Group, welcomed those present saying, “We are here today commemorating and celebrating the arrival of Polynesians nearly 1,000 years ago and also 246 years ago the arrival of Captain Cook.”

He went on to describe the surrounding locations of various tribes and peoples and said, “When we say, “welcome!” to everybody, we mean it from the bottom of our hearts.”

Brooking explained that with today’s scientific advancements, Maori roots can be traced to the Polynesian Islands, with proof that they arrived in New Zealand over 800 years ago. “Polynesians became Maori and today’s local Kiwi.”

“Te Ha means “sharing of breath” and signifies the first intermingling of breath through the traditional Maori greeting of pressing noses,” Brookings said.

A choir from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the service by singing, “As I Have Loved You,” sung in English and Maori.

Words from the hymn reminded those present, “As I have loved you, love one another. This new commandment, love one another. By this shall men know, ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

During Saturday’s gathering, a representative of each faith stood before the group to deliver a spiritual prayer of peace in their native tongue.

Shirley Barker-Kirby of the Presbyterian Community said, “It is wonderful to be here and to be remembering this auspicious day.”

“Bless this day and call us forth as your peacemakers. Call us as you called your disciples to bring what little we have and trust that it might lift the world with goodness and hope.”

“We pray for peace for our broken world.”

“Give us courage to cross borders to seek the larger freedom so that each of your people may know their great worth in your eyes.”

Muhammad Kahn of the Muslim Community prayed in Arabic and then translated, “for the love and for the peace of everyone in all creation.”

Jesil Cajes of the Filipino Community gave a reading then translated, “The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. The Lord turn His face toward us and give us peace.”

Stephen Donald of the Anglican faith said, “We give thanks for and praise for our country, for our place that we live here, and for our dual heritage and shared history.”

Gisborne is the place where James Cook first walked on New Zealand soil. The young lieutenant’s purpose was to undertake a voyage of discovery in the South Pacific. At the time, common belief was that there was a great southern land undiscovered by Europeans.

After stopping in Tahiti, Cook sailed on, arriving on the shores of New Zealand where he made the first recorded circumnavigation mapping the coastline for the first time.

Following Saturday’s activities, celebrations will continue through 2019 when the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival will take place.  Commemorations will be an opportunity to celebrate the shared heritage and unified future of New Zealanders.

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