More Top Stories

Rugby Union

Bigger and busier 2023: PM

31 December 2022

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Church Talk: Father, may they be in us

Wednesday 5 July 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Church Talk: Father, may they be in us
After a year of renovations, the Titikaveka CICC Betela church was re-dedicated last week. MELINA ETCHES/23070506

Bishop Paul Donoghue writes: "Last Friday I was privileged to attend the rededication of the Cook Islands Christian Church in Titikaveka known by the name of “Betela”.

This church was opened in 1841. 

The occasion was a timely reminder to me to reflect once again on the impact of the Gospel’s presence in the country for 200-years .

As a starting point I reflected on what life in the Cook Islands was like before the arrival of the Gospel.


I share with you a story I was told some time ago and I am still attempting to work out whether I agree with the artist involved.  The story involved a village church somewhere in New Caledonia where an artist, who was a leper, had painted on the back wall of the Church a mural depicting the arrival of the first missionaries to the island. The painting showed the sailing ship out in the bay at anchor, with the missionaries coming ashore in long-boats with all their boxes and baggage, goats and animals, while on the shore the local population was lined up with various expressions of wonderment and anxiety shown on their faces. In amongst the crowd there was a person who was different from the others, of lighter colour and partly obscured. When asked who this person was, the artist said that this was the Melanesian Christ waiting for the missionaries.

I understand that prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Cook Islands there were some priestly titles and functions. “Social life and leadership were closely tied to a religious faith. The central idea was mana. Mana or divine power came from the gods, and it gave authority and demanded  public recognition. Mana was passed on by descent within a family. It could be obtained by ritual contact with the gods, but it could also be found in acquired skills. So mana could grow and decrease. With death it disappeared all together. Chiefs and priests announced the prevailing presence of mana. Ambitions should be in accordance with the present mana. Ambitions that were not, would not have any value.

The opposite of mana was tapu. Many human actions were tapu when they did not conform to the prevailing system and rules of life. These actions were tapu, forbidden, bad, and the gods could punish man for it. Some sexual behaviour was tapu, also rebellion against the chiefs, and to ignore the rules which the chief had imposed was also tapu. Mana and tapu gave order to life and society. It is a pity that the European missionaries could not understand that. They thought the Maori (people) lived in chaos, ruled by fear and evil, that they were members of a society that had no rules. This misconception brought about a complete change of way of life of their new faithful.”  The Catholic Mission in the Cook Islands. Cor S.M. Rademaker .

Prayerfully remembering the country’s  history can inspire us to discern directions for the future. The articles in the Cook Island News attributed to the historian  Howard Henry are valuable in helping us follow the planting of the Gospel in the Cook Islands. The most recent published on July 1st, entitled “Seeds of Christianity” gives an insight in what the first missionaries did and said. The article gave some insight into what the missionaries thought of the traditional gods of the past claiming that they were destitute of any power. Now in 2023, my refection led me to a desire to know more of the religious belief of the inhabitants prior to the arrival of the Gospel and to reclaim a sense of the good and bad in the culture. That like the New Caledonia artist  to recognise the Gospel values that had already found their way into the culture other than through the Gospel.


As I was coming out of the beautifully reconstructed Betela  church  and being  greeted by a splendid Rarotongan late afternoon setting sun and joining the happy congregation of mixed religions for a celebratory meal,  my thoughts turned to how frequently we can put aside  our  religious differences and  worship together the one God. We speak of the ecumenical movement which seeks to recover the apostolic sense of the early church for unity in diversity.

Ecumenism, from the Greek word “oikoumene,” meaning “the whole inhabited world,” is the promotion of cooperation and unity among Christians. Jesus Christ founded one Church and, in the midst of his Passion, prayed, “That they may all be one.” (John 17:21)


While these celebrations of the 200-years arrival of the gospel on Rarotonga has us focused on the last 200 years I suggest we give ourselves a goal for the next 200 years. Surely the restoration of many churches at this time on the island is a clear sign we want the Gospel proclaimed for another 200 years.

Jesus in the Gospel  prays for all believers in John 17:20 – 23. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus prays that his disciples may be one. By virtue of this unity, received and preserved, the Church can walk “in the world” without being “of the world” (cf. Jn 17:16) and can live the mission entrusted to her so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent him.

We are all aware that a divided Christianity is a scandal to the world and the movement of the Holy Spirit calls for the restoration, of unity in our diversity. We have to be genuine in seeking a real unity.  Yet, a relationship in which people put aside what they believe or pretend to believe differently would not be authentic and would help no one. I feel strongly that the Cook Islands can show the world that Christian unity is possible. With a population of 15,040  people to aim for a unity should be easier here than anywhere else in the world. Some country has to begin. Why not the Cook Islands? At heart do we have the will to change? We have the will to restore our church buildings to their former glory. Do we have the will to restore the gospel that is preached in these buildings to its former glory of one church?  For this to happen our encounters, dialoguing,will have to be marked by friendship and respect.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, (4: 1 – 3) stated., I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Bishop Paul Donoghue

(Catholic Church)