At this hour, twelve months ago, the sun set on Bishop Barry Jones’ last day on earth. He was unwell and in hospital care. At 3.30 on the morning of 13 February Bishop Barry died, entering God’s kind keeping for eternity.
Above and before all else Bishop Barry Jones was a man of God, a shepherd after the heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd. You get an insight into the shepherd at work (on his pastoral visit to the Chatham Islands) at this link.
Last March I was invited to submit a reflection to the diocesan Inform magazine. Here it is.
Bishop Barry Jones – a reflection
In December 2014 as parish priest of the Chatham Islands I accompanied Bishop Barry on his first pastoral visitation to the most remote parish in the diocese. While New Zealand is spoken of as another country by the residents (“I was in New Zealand last week”) the people of the islands have a strong sense of their Christchurch diocesan identity and therefore they eagerly anticipated the bishop’s visit
Immediately Bishop Barry landed at the Chatham’ airstrip the people embraced him as both bishop and fellow disciple. From the first welcoming call of the marae welcome, to Masses, home visits, baptisms, first communions, confirmations on both Chatham and Pitt islands, from Waitangi, to Te One, from Owenga to distant Kaingaroa, and from Flower Pot across Pitt Island to North Head, Bishop Barry delighted in serving as rural pastor without an administration office or high-altar in sight. He even insisted on getting the gates across the rugged farm tracks of Pitt Island.
In parishioners’ homes throughout the parish the bishop was at ease chatting with the locals about any local concern. With the children at Kaingaroa during the baptism in the schoolroom he played popping his mitre from flat to upright to their amazement and delight. As he finished pouring water to baptise one child he with full evangelising fervour called “anyone else?” And so two baptisms became four with a confirmation. The people were delighted. They knew that he loved them. Bishop Barry was delighting in his people.
On the one-hour mid-evening shingle-road drive from Kaingaroa back to Waitangi he said to me, “I hope you have a beer in the fridge.” I knew that I didn’t but as soon as we arrived home I knocked on the neighbours’ door to say that my friend and I were desperate for a beer and did she have any to spare. The ice-cold Lion Red was godly nectar after a long day in the vineyard and Bishop Barry often later reminded me of the beauty of the moment.
Too often we reduce the beauty and richness of our Catholic faith to catechisms, canon law and liturgical rubrics. Bishop Barry was known for regarding these as not only important but essential and he would never compromise any doctrinal detail, not even in one of Rome’s most distant peripheries. But he also knew that when in the first Christian century Peter and Paul arrived in the heart of the unwelcoming Roman Empire they took no books, but only their intimate friendship with Jesus and Jesus’ law of love expressed in human friendship.
May the soul of our chief pastor, Bishop Barry Jones, rest in peace.