By Perry WestHundreds of African Catholics gathered last Sunday for an annual Mass in Philadelphia, blending cultures, languages, and attire from across the African continent.
The sixth annual African Family Heritage Mass was hosted Oct. 6 by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Mass and a celebratory banquet were held at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in northwest Philadelphia.
Sister Florence Enechukwu, a Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary, founded the event in 2014. Father Christopher Walsh, the pastor at St. Raymond, was the main celebrant and homilist this year.
Walsh told CNA that the event gathered people representing 21 African countries.
“This is an opportunity for them to get together to worship…Different communities take different parts of the Mass and many different languages are used,” he said.
The scripture readings at the Mass were proclaimed in Swahili and English; the prayers of the faithful were read by representatives of Malawi, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, Catholic Philly reported.
Prior to the Mass, a Liberian choir sang “Let Us Come to Jesus My Friend.” During Mass, songs were sung by Kenyan, Francophone, and Nigerian Igbo choirs.
While some participants are part of vibrant communities in their hometowns, Walsh said, “there were also people there who drove down from areas further away in Pennsylvania who don’t get to connect. They’re from Africa, but they don’t get a chance to connect with the larger African community.”
The priest noted that cultural practices are often tied closely to the dissemination of faith.
“The Church has always had an appreciation for culture, and in many cases, the African culture in which these folks grew up is the culture that passed on the faith to them,” he said. “Being able to celebrate in their own liturgical style with their own liturgical music, praying to God in their own language, is important.”
The event, which is hosted at a different parish every year, was held at St. Raymond’s this year because of the parish’s refugee ministry. The parish has sponsored 10 African refugees, hailing from Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania.
Walsh told CNA that the parish works with several agencies to support the refugees. The parish is able to provide clothes and pay a portion of their rent for a few months, in addition to helping them find work and obtain documentation and diplomas.
Participants at the Mass came from Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia, Congo, and the Ivory Coast, among other countries. They wore traditional African clothing from their respective countries.
Many attendees wore clothing featuring black and white images of their favorite saint atop their clothing. Emmanuel Okoro, coordinator for the Igbo Catholic Community at St. Cyprian Parish, said the event is joyfully anticipated by the African communities in the area.
“Many of us are wearing a patron saint,” Okoro told Catholic Philly. “I chose to wear the outfit with St. John Paul II. I have a special devotion to him. Many of those here are from throughout the Philadelphia Archdiocese and Camden. You will see that many of us are wearing different saints,” she told the Catholic Philly.
After Mass, a buffet was offered with a variety of traditional African dishes from different regions.
“It is part of the culture to make sure everyone comes together. Many of these groups worship together as a group,” said Samuel Abu, coordinator for the archdiocese’s Refugee Resettlement Program.
“Under Archbishop Charles Chaput we have the opportunity to pray together and gather to serve God,” he told Catholic Philly. “We have apostolates throughout the archdiocese. The African Catholic community is always increasing because now we have first, second and third generations of families. This Mass made it possible to bring them together.”