Catholics called to stadium

GLORIOUS VOICES: Catholic Cathedral Junior Choir during the last Good Friday performance of Bach’s St John Passion before the Canterbury earthquakes.
GLORIOUS VOICES: Catholic Cathedral Junior Choir during the last Good Friday performance of Bach’s St John Passion before the Canterbury earthquakes.

Thousands of Catholics will pack the CBS Arena this month to celebrate their faith, writes Don Whelan.

The most exciting part of living in post-earthquake Christchurch is the opportunity to create some good futures. Those who have grieved over lost houses and neighbourhoods will hopefully rejoice when new dwellings are secured. Similarly, although most of our churches have been irrevocably damaged or destroyed, debate continues on how they should be replaced. As with both cathedrals and the town hall, voices call for retention or renewal, ancient or modern. Meanwhile, we try to cope.

Pope Benedict XVI announced a Year of Faith beginning in October 2012 and coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, to invite "conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world".

This Year of Faith concludes at the end of November and Bishop Jones, Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, called for a gathering of the local faithful. The only possible local venue with a large enough capacity is the CBS Arena.

Accordingly, a huge celebration named Faithfest will take place in the arena on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Sunday, November 24, which also marks the end of the church's liturgical year, before the Advent season, which leads to Christmas.

On that Sunday, masses will be transferred to the arena, and it will be filled to its legal capacity with close to 9000 local Catholics, who have all applied for free tickets. They are the lucky ones, as there is a waiting list. People will travel from South Canterbury, North Canterbury and the West Coast to be part of this celebration.

During the preceding hour, a children's choir numbering close to 400, drawn from the Cathedral Music Outreach programme, will give their annual combined performance. Music for the mass will be provided by the Cathedral Choir, and includes a number of well-known popular choral pieces. The choir has sung in most of the world's great cathedrals, including St Peter's Basilica, during the Midnight Mass with Blessed Pope John Paul II, which began the 2000 Millennium Jubilee Year.

Within the arena they will be accompanied by an electronic organ and a brass ensemble from members of Chapel Brass and the Salvation Army Citadel Band.

Don Whelan is musical director of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.


Choral singing is alive and well in Christchurch. Although our town hall auditorium is closed, and at risk, and almost all the churches and halls once prized as choir platforms are demolished or unusable, singers keep singing in unlikely venues such as the CBS Canterbury Arena, the only place large enough to sustain the choral festivals for which Christchurch once was famous.

So we will have a Christchurch Choral Festival, in the CBS Arena, at 7pm on Sunday, November 24.

It will be a relatively short event (planned to finish about 8.30pm) and will be free to both audience and performers. This is a generous gift to the city's singers from the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.

It has hired the arena for a morning mass.

The choral festival will begin with a procession and short bracket of church music from an ecumenical choir, drawn from singers who have emerged from the broken churches of our city, committed to the rebuild of their churches, and the sustenance of their individual faith traditions.

These include Christchurch Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Durham Street Methodist, Oxford Terrace Baptist, Knox Presbyterian Church, St Michael and All Angels, St Luke's, and many more.

Following this, four groups of similar style will present a combined bracket of about three songs. The Christchurch Community Choirs include the Canterbury Singers, Risingholme, and Aeolian Choir.

Youth will be represented by the Catholic Colleges Combined Choirs. The Canterbury Plainsmen and Vocal Network showcase the barbershop style.

Choirs which usually present demanding works in concert will include the Christchurch City Choir, Jubilate Singers, Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Choir, Consortia Choir and the Pro Arte Chorale. The concert concludes with everyone singing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.

The Press