'... at least the boy was saved'

Start your meeting with the Sign of the Cross

Someone read: Wisdom: 4:7-15

“The virtuous man, though he die before his time, will find rest.

Length of days is not what makes age honourable, nor number of years the true measure of life; understanding, this is man’s grey hairs; untarnished life, this is ripe old age.

He has sought to please God, so God has loved him; as he was living among sinners, he has been taken up. He has been carried off so that evil may not warp his understanding or treachery seduce his soul; for the fascination of evil throws good things into the shade, and the whirlwind of desire corrupts a simple heart. Coming to perfection in so short a while, he achieved long life; his soul being pleasing to the Lord, he has taken him quickly from the wickedness around him.”

The music we used is 'How Great Thou Art', as played at the start of Sir Edmund Hillary's funeral.

Play the tape or read the script - as below:

A Tribute to Jeremy Gray “… At least the boy was saved” February 2008

As I write this for you and prepare to speak and record it, the Service of Requiem for Sir Edmund Hillary is being held in St Mary’s Church, Auckland. I would dearly love to watch all of it on TV but instead I want to write this for the subject of my first refelction for you for 2008 bears much in common with Sir Edmund Hillary. I want to talk to you about another NZ hero and role model, though 60 years younger. I want to speak about a Marist called Jeremy Gray. I attended his funeral in Christchurch. Its associated grieving and reflection has dominated much of my month. He was the youngest member of our NZ Marist province and was due for Ordination to the Priesthood in 2009. Let me quote immediately from a reflection that you can still find on line: click here to go to the New Zealand Herald site

“Jeremy died while in training for the priesthood ... died a hero after sacrificing his life for a 7-year-old local boy drowning off the coast of New Caledonia. Jeremy, 29, was walking in shallow water with the boy while on a New Year's church picnic celebration, when the pair fell into a hole in a coastal reef at Yate, near Noumea. Neither of them saw the hole because the water was muddied by the recent rainy season floods. They were trapped by the swirling seas. Jeremy managed to push the boy out of the deep water and back into the shallows and, despite being tired from his efforts, refused to take the youngster's outstretched hand.

"Jeremy shouted 'go back, go back'. He knew he would pull the small boy back into the water and they would both die," said Father Bernard Girol, one of those at the picnic. "He used all his energy to save the boy and he got tired. It was Jeremy who saved his life."

The 7-year-old ran to get help and returned with his father, who dived into the rough water to rescue the unconscious Gray, but it was too late. Jeremy was already gone, and the boy's father almost drowned too; he got caught in the whirlpool as well," Father Girol said. Other rescuers pulled both Jeremy and the 27-year-old father out - but the trainee priest was dead. The father was taken to hospital in a serious condition, but has since been released and his son was treated for shock.

Jeremy's mother Allayne paid tribute to her only child, who she said was a wonderful young man who loved people and his faith. "I know he touched the lives of many people who knew him and loved him."

Jeremy had been in New Caledonia for one year, on a two-year pastoral placement as part of his priesthood training working in a local Marist parish. During his training in Auckland, the Waimate-born Jeremy wrote on the Marist seminary web site that he felt called to priesthood in 1996 and began formal studies three years later. "At the moment, I feel grateful that God has called me to Marist life, and am happy to try and abandon myself more and more to Him," Jeremy wrote on the web site.

A memorial service for Jeremy was held in New Caledonia with more than 1000 locals attending. Mourners spilled out on to the streets from the St Louis Mission, which has room for only 500 people. The night before a vigil was held and hundreds attended all night long. The youth of the parish had decorated the Church in the most beautiful way. "Many came to pay tribute. The whole church was full, the whole community. Jeremy really touched the hearts of the people. He was a popular guy, very kind," Father Girol said. His was largest recorded funeral of a Marist in New Caledonia. On his return to NZ, another service was held in St Anne’s, Manurewa, and his Requiem funeral was in Christchurch St Mary’s on Tuesday 8 January.

At least 50 priests were present and three Bishops and the large church of St Mary was packed. During the Requiem, his spiritual director, Fr Neil Vaney said in his homily: “The decision to plunge into a reef sink hole was the logical outcome of every prior choice in his life.” Jeremy is buried, not in a Marist plot in Christchurch but in the Churchyard cemetery of the Anglican Church of All Saints, Prebbleton, his mother’s family parish. Jeremy converted to Catholicism when he was 16 and so brought with him a sensitivity to other branches of the Christian Faith. His father is a Presbyterian, but who has a second cousin, Fr Geoff Gray, Parish priest of St Thomas More Timaru North, and who received Jeremy into the Church.

I will conclude by reflecting for you on the similarity of this fine young man with Sir Edmund Hillary. Just as Sir Ed had scaled the heights of Everest and gave his energy to the Nepalese who had enabled him to achieve greatness, so Jeremy moved into the depths of many multi-cultural hearts and spent his short life, not unlike that of soldiers in earlier generations in saving others. May that service in the name of Jesus, continue to be an up-lifting expression of love and service so that many may find the energy to follow in the same Christ-like footsteps. His foot took him not to Everest but to Calvary summit; his sufferings saved another’s life. His death is heroic and saintly.

Share your responses:

* Jeremy’s action is like that of a natural parent. In what ways have you experienced something similar?

* If you were the parent of the rescued boy, what emotions might you have regarding Jeremy’s family?

* Have you experienced or witnessed special graces given to a person not long before they die?

* Jeremy made the ultimate sacrifice. What place does ‘sacrifice’ have in our thinking especially in Lent?

* Have you any ideas about how the country should honour the memory of Sir Edmund Hillary?

Prayer time:

for your own intentions, remember also to pray for the Gray family, for Ismael Fisiipeau (the boy who was saved,) and his family.

Conclude the meeting with the following:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,

that never was it known that anyone

who fled to your protection, implored your help,

or sought your intercession was left unaided.

Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you,

O virgins of virgins, my Mother.

To you I come, before you I stand,

sinful an sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,

despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

“Jeremy was a very talented person who spoke French, had a degree in Theology and loved music. He was fit and healthy...he was very intelligent, and instinctively focussed on others. He had a strong character and was a quiet sensitive guy.” - the SM provincial