Wenceslaus Anthony, an ardent community worker and the chairman of the Mother Teresa Interfaith Committee recently received the Papal Medal, Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice (Decoration of Honour of the Roman Catholic Church) awarded by Pope Francis of Vatican.
Mr Anthony is also a leading Kiwi-Indian businessman, an ex-chair of India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) who has accompanied former Prime Minister John Key twice on his official visit to India.
In a short conversation with Indian Weekender, Mr Anthony shared his journey from a modest living in Auckland to establishing himself as a successful businessman.
When did you get the news of the award that you received?
Mr Anthony: I was in Tonga for my son’s birthday two weeks ago, when I received an email from Bishop Dunn confirming that Pope Francis has conferred an award ‘Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice’ on me. I didn’t know much about that, and in fact I had to google about it. It was only then that I came to know that this is the highest award given to a layman by the Pope. I wrote back to the bishop that I am not worthy, but in the name of all the people, I consider this as their award, and I am just a face for the award. I do think of my parents at this moment as they have been a great influence.
IWK: How did you start your Kiwi-Indian journey?
Mr Anthony: I am a very strong believer that I am weak, but in God I am strong, my strength comes from Almighty God. I came to New Zealand in 1999, and every day I would say that I will go back. Having worked in India, I knew I would never get a job here; I was unsure if I would be happy doing a job here. I lived in Mt Roskill then opposite to a church, and I would pray that I should not get a job and instead start a business so that I can bring food to the table.
I came across a gentleman in one of my Australia visits, and during a normal conversation with him, he was surprised by my answer to his question about my intent to start a business without any decent fund in hand. I simply said that God would provide the means, which took him by surprise.
Long story short, he asked me to meet him next day, and he agreed to fund my venture and then I started my import business there. It was a big turning point for me.
I am fortunate to have very good friends in New Zealand who have provided immense support to me. The first few years were very hard, but slowly it picked up. One very good thing about New Zealand is that if you do a good job, word of mouth spreads very fast.
IWK: You travelled with the former Prime Minister twice to India. How was the experience?
Mr Anthony: I was an integral part of the former Prime Minister’s state delegation to India in 2011 and 2016. I had the fortune of being in his inner circle, both in the aircraft and the meetings. That was an excellent exposure and with the charisma of Hon. John Key and as the chair of India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) at that time we opened new chapters in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. We worked progressively towards building strong business relations with Indian business bodies.
IWK: What are the various community activities you are involved with?
Mr Anthony: In 2010, it was the 100-years birth anniversary of Saint Teresa. The best way to honour mother has organised an interfaith meet for Saint Teresa on her birth anniversary. Few of us got together and under Bishop Patrick Dunn, the Catholic archbishop of Auckland we hosted Mother Teresa Interfaith meet. People from all walks of life and religion came to the meet; the then Governor Sir Anand Satyanand also joined us which led us to make it as an annual meet. I happened to know mother very well; I was blessed to be a part of her funeral in Kolkata, India.
IWK: Could you tell us about your association with the church here?
Mr Anthony: I believe in Mother Teresa’s philosophy ‘Love is about giving till it hurts’. We have organised several activities and events in Auckland to bring the different communities together. We called Father Augustine Vallooran, the Director of Divine Retreat Centre in India for the six-day spiritual feast. Under Catholic Caring Foundation under Bishop of Auckland, we give grants to various agencies on certain criteria to support families and communities. We also have Conquest Boys Club that trains young leaders of tomorrow between ages 8-16 year. We also host Mother of Velankali Devotion feast to St Mary’s Church in Avondale.
IWK: What is your message to the community?
Mr Anthony: We all have vertical and horizontal relationships; my horizontal relationship is with you and vertical relationship with God. We sometimes astray from the vertical relationship, but the sooner we get back to God, the better it is for us. I feel proud to see the Kiwi Indian community progressing, and the children are doing so well in their education, businesses, and different professions.