December 13, 2013

On 10th anniversary, African Catholic Ministry members encouraged to continue ‘grand vision’

Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, gives a homily on Dec. 1 at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis during the Mass celebrating the 10th anniversary of the archdiocesan African Catholic Ministry. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, gives a homily on Dec. 1 at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis during the Mass celebrating the 10th anniversary of the archdiocesan African Catholic Ministry. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

With pounding beats, the drums called the African Catholics to prayer with rhythms from both East and West Africa.

In matching outfits, children processed in first, performing a marching, stepping form of dance in time to the music.

The opening song reflected nations of the people in attendance, with verses sung in Zulu, Luganda, Swahili, Igbo, French and English.

The Mass was celebrated as the sun set, not on the continent of Africa, but at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis.

The African Mass was held on Dec. 1 to honor the 10th anniversary of the founding of the African Catholic Ministry under the archdiocese’s Office of Multicultural Ministry.

Father Kenneth Taylor, one of the founders of the ministry and pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, concelebrated the Mass with Father Eusebius Mbidoaka, administrator of St. Rita Parish, and Father Emmanuel Nyong, a chaplain at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Father Taylor drew from the first reading and the season of Advent to mark the special occasion in his homily.

“In the first reading [Is. 2:1-5], we have this image of people from the various nations and cultures streaming toward the one location—the Lord’s house,” Father Taylor remarked.

“They’re all coming to the Lord’s house in peace and harmony. It’s so strong that Isaiah’s vision talks about how they will beat their swords into plowshares.

“Advent is a time to think big, to have a grand vision and work toward that vision. A vision of harmony and peace among all people is not small. It’s a big thing.

“I think it’s a nice coincidence that we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of this ministry at the beginning of Advent as we have this reading from Isaiah to focus on,” Father Taylor continued.

“In a way, creating this ministry is a grand vision. Here we’re talking about trying to bring together people of different cultures, nations and language to come together and present one people to the Lord.

“As the African Catholic Ministry, this is the time for us to think big, to continue to think as to what could be, not to settle for what is. … If we can continue that in the African Catholic Ministry, then we can accomplish great things.”

The ministry was born of an effort 10 years ago from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee of Cultural Diversity in the Church to meet the needs of the growing community of Catholics from Africa.

Sally Stovall, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, president of the African Catholic Ministry for the last six years and a native of Nigeria, was involved with the ministry from the start.

“The coordinator from the USCCB [Committee of Cultural Diversity in the Church], Sister Mary, came down here to Indianapolis in December of 2003. More than 60 [people] attended.

“We formed an ad hoc committee and started from there,” she said.

According to Stovall, the goals of the ministry include providing a forum for African Catholics to worship using traditions of their various homelands, to pass those traditions on to youths born in America, and to offer the opportunity to discuss issues relevant to African Catholics.

“Some of the issues we have to deal with are immigration and education,” Stovall explained. “Some went to school back home, and came here and their degree is not being recognized. So they have to start all over.

“Some people are missing papers or their papers expired. So, we as a Church, we are trying to help these people.”

Stovall is pleased with what the ministry has accomplished during the last 10 years.

Among the highlights, Stovall listed the development of the African Mass and choir, the formation of the Global Children African dance group, the offering of seminars and days of reflection, and the hosting this year of the national conference for the National Association of African Catholics in the United States.

Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry, shared his vision for the African Catholic Ministry.

“The vision is to promote a sense of intercultural ministry in which we all share the beauty and richness to live out in our unique ways our one faith.

“Therefore, part of the vision is to help the archdiocese as a whole to become more aware of the presence of the African Catholics in the archdiocese.

“Another part of this vision,” he explained, “is to help each other embrace the beauty of our identity as Catholics who come from different parts of the world and are yet still united in one faith. Our vision has to do with being Church, a home for all of us.”

Toepleh Nigbea, a member of Holy Angels Parish originally from Liberia, attended the Mass and celebration afterward.

“It’s good to connect with our origins in the way we praise and worship God,” he said of the African Catholic Ministry. “We can share that with the rest of the community.”

Sister Charles Iheme of the New Evangelization Sisters of Mother of Perpetual Help serves as director of the African choir. She sees the ministry and African Mass as important not just for Catholics native to Africa, but especially their children.

“I think it’s very important to the ones born here,” Sister Charles said. “It would be nice for them to know the African culture. It is good for them to get involved.

“In Africa, we believe in worshipping God with dancing, with joy. Back home, you dance and sing and forget your sorrows. It’s quite different here.”

One youth who has embraced the African culture is 15-year-old Chinwe Nwachukwu, a member of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. Her family is originally from Nigeria.

“[The African Mass has] helped me understand the faith and my African culture and how they mix,” said the Hamilton Southeastern High School student. “The different songs and dancing make me feel more connected to my faith and my background.”

Currently, the membership of the African Catholic Ministry is around 50. Stovall would like to see that figure grow.

“[The archdiocese has] given us a forum to worship together and show how we worship at home,” she said. “If we don’t have it here, we won’t have it at all.”

She encouraged African Catholics “to get children involved because they are our future. If we don’t pass on our culture to them, it will be gone.”
 

(For more information on the African Catholic Ministry, contact Sally Stovall at 317-269-1276.)

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