March 27, 2015

‘United in our diversity’: Woman’s story, archbishop’s message show how Church is blessed by African-born Catholics

A choir representing both English-speaking and French-speaking members of the African Catholic Community adds vibrancy to the African Catholic Mass celebrated on March 14 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

A choir representing both English-speaking and French-speaking members of the African Catholic Community adds vibrancy to the African Catholic Mass celebrated on March 14 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

Christine Kateregga’s voice rang out in six languages, including her native Luganda, as the processional hymn filled SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis with joyful sounds.

Drums and dancing accompanied the entrance hymn, “We Are Walking in the Light of God,” at the Mass that opened the African Gathering hosted by the archdiocese on March 14.

For choir member Kateregga, that song held special significance. Throughout her life, especially in the darkest moments, she said the Catholic Church has always walked with her. And her experiences reflect the kind of personal, culturally sensitive pastoral care that is among the goals outlined by the archdiocese at the event.

“I have been through everything,” said Kateregga, treasurer of the archdiocesan African Catholic Ministry, which hosted the African Gathering. “If not for the Church, I don’t know if I could have made it.”

Born and raised in Uganda, Kateregga nearly lost her life during the brutal regime of Idi Amin in the 1970s, when Christians were harshly persecuted. She came to the United States as a college student in 1982, facing a pregnancy and an uncertain future. After an unexpected turn took her from Boston to Bloomington, the lifelong Catholic was embraced by the communities of St. Charles Borromeo Parish and St. Paul Catholic Center. Church members at St. Paul not only made her feel at home, they literally found her a home with a Nigerian family as she prepared for the birth of her daughter.

Later, her education and career in finance brought her to Indianapolis, where she has been an active member of several parishes. In March 2013, the mother of two lost her son to suicide. Once again, her Church family—both her current parish of Holy Spirit and the broader African Catholic community—stepped in to help her cope.

This is exactly the kind of pastoral care that Pope Francis has called for at the local level of the Church, according to Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, director of intercultural ministry in the archdiocese and a key planner of the African Gathering.

“We want to respond to our call to embrace what Pope Francis calls a ‘culture of encounter,’ in which we welcome, appreciate and walk with every ethnic and cultural community in the archdiocese,” Brother Moises said.

“We believe that every one of these communities has a lot to offer the archdiocese, enriching all of us with their religiosity, values, traditions, history and life. Part of our mission is also to help the archdiocese become more aware of the ethnic and cultural diversity present in the archdiocese.”

The African community is itself incredibly diverse, as was evident at the African Gathering. French-speaking African Catholics and those representing numerous other languages and cultures were present to celebrate what makes them unique and united at the same time.

“We are united in our diversity,” said Lucky Oseghale, speaking of his native Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and itself home to more than 500 languages. Oseghale is a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

This incredible diversity is both a blessing and a challenge for the archdiocese, according to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, who celebrated the African Mass and then spoke at the dinner that followed at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center. The archbishop, who has visited numerous African countries, said that while languages and traditions vary widely across the continent, African Catholics also share “common values that can enrich the Church in the United States.”

“African-born Catholics retain a strong fidelity to the Church,” Archbishop Tobin said. “They identify strongly with the Church’s teaching. Church attendance across the country of African-born Catholics is higher than that of American-born Catholics.”

However, he also noted that the participation of African Catholics in parish life is generally limited to attendance at Mass. This indicates that there is more work to do—both for Church leaders and the African faithful. The African Gathering was designed not only as a social event, but as the starting point for developing a pastoral plan for the African Catholic community.

Archbishop Tobin said that creating more diversity in the archdiocesan offices and promoting intercultural awareness were among the responsibilities of the archdiocese. He also called on those gathered to reflect on what their responsibilities might be.

The archbishop shared an experience from early in his priesthood, when he was assigned to an Hispanic parish. A priest from Spain remarked that for the newly ordained Father Tobin, the move was like “taking a pine tree out of the northern forest, pulling it up from its roots, and then planting it on the beach in Puerto Rico. The pine tree can grow, but it has to change.”

Similarly, the archbishop said, many of those in attendance that evening also had been “planted in a different place.” He said that while they will change in their new environment, they also must maintain and reflect the unique beauty of their native cultures.

“This is where you are called to be now—to prosper, to flourish,” he said. “We will be deeply enriched by your gifts and talents, which ultimately benefit all and give glory to God.”

The archbishop’s presence and message resonated deeply with Kateregga, who wants more African Catholics in the archdiocese to experience the kind of support and connection she has known since coming to Indiana three decades ago.

“We want to be more proactive,” she said of the African Catholic Ministry, which has been in existence for 11 years. “We want the parishes to feel our presence.

“I love being a Catholic. No matter where I am in the world, I always feel at home.”
 

(Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.)

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