Not Alone on the Journey: A Story from New Zealand

"The Journey" Water Colour by Fr. Sherwin Lapaan

"I knew that the hospital is a leveling off...once you get into the hospital you are all wearing the same hospital gown."

Jacqueline Marie | Dec.14, 2022

A year ago Father Sherwin’s blood pressure was unstable. Within 5 weeks he had lost a significant amount of weight. Then an ECG showed that he had had a minor heart attack. Next, his childhood asthma came back, and he struggled with diverticulitis. A diagnostic journey began as he was sent from one specialist to the next, through test after test.

All of this happened within a year of Father Sherwin becoming the new Pastor of St. Mark Catholic Mission Parish in Pakuranga, New Zealand. “This is where Divine Renovation came in,” he says. Father Sherwin had been in coaching with DR: he had a strong leadership team that he trusted and was able to communicate with and rely on. “When I was removed from my parish to attend to my medical needs for at least three months… the parish was able to sustain itself.”

Eventually a tumour was discovered in his gallbladder. Surgery was necessary.

But due to the pandemic lockdown, his surgery date had to be pushed back. During this time, Father Sherwin was in immense pain and found himself in and out of the hospital. 

Father Sherwin’s first assignment as a young priest had been a hospital chaplaincy. He knew what his tumour treatment and recovery would look like.I knew that the hospital is a leveling off. Whether you’re a priest, you’re a rich person, you’re a young person, whether you are poor once you get into the hospital you are all wearing the same hospital gown.” He was stripped of what identified him, stuck to a bed, and unable to run the day-to-day operations of his parish. 

Fr. Sherwin in hospital

So, Father Sherwin took up painting.  

His art started with images of the sick children he saw in the room across from him at the hospital – holding a teddy bear or with balloons. Soon he was branching off to other subjects and has now done more than 300 pieces. His parish exhibited his art earlier this year and used the proceeds from the art sale to go towards youth and young adult ministries (they raised $10,000 NZ). 

“This is where Divine Renovation came in...When I was removed from my parish to attend to my medical needs for at least three months... the parish was able to sustain itself.”

It has now been a year since Father Sherwin had the tumor successfully removed before it metastasized. He feels his healing is due to all the prayers of his family, friends, and parishioners. 

He is back in the parish and focused on a missional vision where he hopes the parish will become a home for the community. There are 70 different cultures in his parish, which he describes as a ‘melting pot.’ His dream is for them to all feel a sense of home together – that they can be family.  

“The Pilgrims” Water Colour, Fr. Sherwin Lapaan

“Home is built on relationships, and it works actually…even Jesus himself when he decided to enter the chaos of our humanity. He didn’t just appear out of thin air.He decided to be born to a family of Mary and Joseph, and they built a home. So, I said (to the leadership team), why don’t we have our vision, Your Parish, Your Home’.” Father Sherwin furthers that the mission is to have that family reach out to “make disciples of all nations.” 

The foyer now operates as a lounge to make people comfortable even before they step into the church – he considers it “the front porch of the house” a place to shelter and be welcomed. “We should meet people where they are at” and so “we call this ‘the ministry of the foyer’.” Children and parents will often spend time in the space before and after drop off at the parish primary school. 

Father Sherwin states, “there’s always a sense of mission, of being sent…let us be missionaries in our homes.” 

Fully recovered, Fr. Sherwin Lapaan