September 27, 2013

Monthly Mass in French at St. Malachy Church ‘offers sign of communion, of unity’ of the faithful

Brenda Kpotufe, originally from the French-speaking country of Togo in West Africa, proclaims the first reading at the Mass celebrated in French at St. Malachy Church in Brownsburg on Sept. 8. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Brenda Kpotufe, originally from the French-speaking country of Togo in West Africa, proclaims the first reading at the Mass celebrated in French at St. Malachy Church in Brownsburg on Sept. 8. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

BROWNSBURG—When Ginette Ninon arrived in the U.S. from the French-speaking country of Ivory Coast in West Africa, she was unable to find a Mass in French—for 17 1/2 years.

It was not until July 14 that Ninon again celebrated Mass in her native French language. The Mass was not in Ivory Coast or even Africa, but in Brownsburg at St. Malachy Church.

July 14 marked the first monthly Mass in French celebrated by Father Michael Hoyt, associate pastor of St. Malachy Parish. The Mass is held at St. Malachy Church at 5 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month.

“The idea [of starting a Mass in French in the archdiocese] came because I noticed that some of the French speakers were not coming to Mass,” said Dabrice Bartet, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis and former resident of the French-speaking West African country of Togo. “They were going to other churches because they didn’t have any connection to a church here, [because Mass is] not lively enough and they don’t understand [the language].”

Bartet and two other French-speaking St. Monica Parish members, Marie Valese from Haiti and Marie Fay from Senegal, met with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin in April about the possibility of having a monthly Mass in French available in the archdiocese.

“He listened to us and said, ‘I’ll find you a priest,’ ” said Bartet.

That priest was Father Hoyt.

A member of the Community of St. John religious order, Father Hoyt lived in France for seven years.

“My theological, classical and philosophy studies and my initial year as a priest were all in France,” said the Indianapolis native, who has begun the process of incardination as a priest in the archdiocese.

“I’m delighted [to celebrate the Mass in French]. It’s wonderful to be able to pray in French, and to form community with a number of different people from West Africa, from Canada, from France and other places in the world.

“There are no hard numbers of French speakers in [Indianapolis],” said Father Hoyt. “There are definitely folks here from West Africa, Quebec and France, but no numbers on demographics.”

When Brenda Kpotufe, a Togo native and member of St. Monica Parish, heard about the Mass for French speakers, she was doubtful of the need for a Mass in that language.

“But the first time I came, it really connected me to my original faith. Now every time I come, I see the need for it. When they asked me to [be a lector], I thought that’s the least I can do,” said Kpotufe, who proclaimed the first reading at the Mass on Sept. 8.

Not all of the people who attend the Mass are from Africa. Paul Burns, a member of St. Malachy Parish, learned French in high school.

“Apparently, my French is still good enough,” said the proclaimer of the second reading at the Sept. 8 Mass.

Some who attend the Mass do not even speak French.

“I speak German and heard there was a French-speaking Mass,” said St. Malachy Parish member Lee Little. “I thought it’d be interesting to come and see what it was all about.

“I can read [French] more than I can speak it, so having the [French-language instructional Mass] card helped.”

Bartet emphasized that the Mass for French speakers is not intended to draw Catholics away from their parishes.

“The goal is to have them live their faith in their own parish, and come together once a month to celebrate in their native language, French.”

Brother Moises Gutierrez, director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, explained that “our heart language—which is the language with which people express faith, love, joy, sorrow, and desires—allows us to be who we are and to feel at home.

“This is the most valuable gift the Church can give to people, to feel at home. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis wants to assure [French-speaking Catholics] that this is home.”

To assist with this effort, the archdiocese established in August the Apostolate of French-Speaking Catholics. The group is now connected to the archdiocese’s Office of Multicultural Ministry.

“It seems that the first thought that comes to mind when we talk about a Mass being in another language is separation,” said Brother Moises. “But it is, in fact, the opposite. The French Mass in the archdiocese offers a sign of communion, of unity.”

Ninon, reunited with the French Mass after 17 1/2 years and now serving as choir director at the Masses, senses that unity.

“To me, this is another way to praise God,” she said. “Here at the Francophone Mass, our language, the French language, unites us.

“But beyond that, we are all united in Christ, and Christ speaks and understands all languages.”
 

(For more information on the Mass in French, contact Dabrice Bartet at ccfindy3@gmail.com.)

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