Remembering the past: Waitangi Day and CST

Published on 8th Feb, 2021

Published in WelCom February 2021

Lisa Beech

Every year, Waitangi Day, 6 February, brings us an opportunity to reflect on whether we are moving towards, or away from, reconciliation and justice resulting from our country’s history.

Members of Catholic communities can be heard on all sides of the debate. Some may advocate for active resolution of past injustices, while others may wish the discussion could be left in the past.

Like other urgent moral issues of our time, reading and reflecting on Catholic social teaching can aid the development of our consciences.

In his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis reflects on the importance of memory when considering our history, especially when injustice has occurred. Of events that happened in World War II, present and future generations should never lose the memory of the Shoah (Holocaust) or the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Speaking more generally about historic injustices Pope Francis says: ‘Nowadays, it is easy to be tempted to turn the page, to say that all these things happened long ago and we should look to the future. For God’s sake, no! We can never move forward without remembering the past, we do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory.’ (Fratelli Tutti #249)

This recent teaching from Pope Francis is worth considering alongside two statements on the Treaty of Waitangi from the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) in 1990 and 1995.

Both of these statements were written when examining our history through the Waitangi Tribunal was just beginning. However, the bishops’ statements continue to be relevant in our present day as settlements for historic injustice are occurring in many areas, and new areas of dialogue are opening up, such as the meaning of ‘partnership’ between Iwi and Crown in caring for children in state care.

In the NZCBC 1990 statement: A Commemoration Year – He Tau Whakamaharatanga Mō Aotearoa (on the bishops confirmed their understanding that this country was founded as a bicultural state through the signing of texts in Māori (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) and English (the Treaty of Waitangi); acknowledging the place of Māori as tangata whenua (people of the land); and providing the moral basis for the presence of all other peoples in Aotearoa. They saw an opportunity for renewal and reconciliation.

Five years later, in the 1995 The Treaty of Waitangi in Today’s Perspective, the bishops acknowledged the frustration, difficulty and conflict involved in overcoming the legacy of past injustices, but urged all of us to get to know our history. They said we had an opportunity to ‘heal wounds that have been present for too long’.

For New Zealanders of all origins, matters around te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi may still raise strong emotions, and can be confronting and painful for some. Please take some time this Waitangi Day to reflect and pray on Pope Francis’ teaching on reconciliation in Fratelli Tutti, and on the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ 1990 and 1995 statements on the Treaty of Waitangi.

Lisa Beech is Ecology, Justice and Peace adviser, Archdiocese of Wellington.


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