Young Priest Sacrifices his life to save a boy
New Caledonia, New Zeland, Dec.06, 2008 (vaticans.org) - A Kiwi priest has died a hero after sacrificing his life for a 7-year-old boy drowning off the coast of New Caledonia.
Jeremy Gray, 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.
Gray 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 Gray 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.
Yesterday Jeremy's mother Allayne Gray 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."
Father Brian Cummings, vicar of the New Zealand Society of Mary, said Gray died "doing an amazing thing".
Gray had been in New Caledonia for one year, on a two-year pastoral placement as part of his priesthood training for the Catholic Church, working in the local parish.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman confirmed Gray had died as a result of a drowning accident. His body is expected to return to New Zealand today.
During his training in Auckland, the Waimate-born Gray wrote on the Marist seminary website that he felt called to priesthood in 1996 and began formal studies three years later.
"At the moment, I feel grateful that He has called me to Marist life, and am happy to try and abandon myself more and more to Him," Gray wrote on the website.
A memorial service for Gray was held in New Caledonia yesterday 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.
"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.
Another service will remember Jeremy Gray in Auckland today and his funeral will be held in Christchurch on Tuesday.
A young man fishing from the rocks fell 15m to his death after plummeting off a cliff and into the water off the Taranaki coastline yesterday.
Rescuers searched for the man by boat and by climbing down the cliff.
Police eventually recovered the floating body in the water off Wai-iti Beach, north of New Plymouth.
Police have yet to formally identify the man, who was with a friend, but believed he was in his mid-20s.
DEVOTION TO GOD
Twelve years ago, Jeremy Gray chose a life of devotion to God. In a diary posted on the Marist Seminary website, the 29-year-old explains the path which led him to spend two years of his life serving the Catholic Church in New Caledonia before he was tragically killed.
It reads: "My name is Jeremy Gray and I am a student here at Marist Seminary, Auckland, New Zealand. My hometown is Waimate in South Canterbury.
"My journey began in 1996. During that year I felt a deep call to the priesthood, a call that came quite explicitly through Mary. ... I applied to study for the Diocese of Christchurch, and so having already lived there the year before, in 1999 I began formational studies at Good Shepherd House, a pre-seminary in Christchurch.
"In 2000 I continued my studies at Holy Cross Seminary, Ponsonby. Towards the end of that year, I discerned something of God's personal vocation for me: how He was calling me to live the Gospel in a way unique to my person. ... Things started to resound deeply in my heart: I wanted to live in the Spirit of Mary, in a Society that was under her name, a Society that seeks to make her present in the Church today, as she was at Pentecost. So, after three years studying to be a diocesan priest, here I am discerning my vocation more deeply.
"At the moment, I feel grateful that He has called me to Marist Life, and am happy to try and abandon myself more and more to Him."
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