Father Christopher O’Neill says he can foresee his church in Invercargill becoming a predominantly Asian congregation in future decades “if things carry on the way they are at the moment”.
He estimates that up to 30 per cent of his regular congregation are from the Filipino community.
With the launch of the Southland Regional Development Strategy this year, this trend may accelerate.
To reach the goal of attracting 10,000 people to the region by 2025, workers from immigrant communities are being heavily targeted.
The majority of these migrants would likely come from Asia and the Pacific.
Along with other churches Catholic Church has been dealing problems of declining attendance.
But the growth of Southland’s Filipino community has transformed many churches in the South.
O’Neill says the new migrants have brought “a lot of energy and enthusiasm” to the church.
“They’re a lot younger, the people who do come – and they bring their children along as well.”
“People in their 30s and 40s is a demographic we are missing out on [with New Zealand born people].”
“It’s having quite an effect on the people who are already here, they have done us a lot of good.”
Since last November, the Diocese of Dunedin has been celebrating monthly Filipino-language masses around Otago and Southland.
The decision to hold the Tagalog masses was the idea of Reverend Fredy Permentilla, himself a Filipino priest working in Gore.
Permentilla celebrates the masses in Winton, Invercargill, Dunedin, and Queenstown.
He said that for many Filipinos “there is a longing to hear the mass in their own language”.
Permentilla arrived in New Zealand in 2012, as part of an initiative of the Mission Society of the Philippines.