November 17, 2017

‘One family’ of God celebrates feast of St. Martin de Porres

Amaka Ogbuehi, left, and her sister, Nneka Jemie, both natives of Nigeria, hold hands while praying the Lord’s Prayer during the Nov. 3 Mass. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Amaka Ogbuehi, left, and her sister, Nneka Jemie, both natives of Nigeria, hold hands while praying the Lord’s Prayer during the Nov. 3 Mass. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By Mike Krokos

It’s about family. More specifically, it’s about God’s family and how its rich diversity can come together to celebrate as brothers and sisters in faith.

That was the message a joyful Nkeka Jemie shared after taking part in the annual archdiocesan St. Martin de Porres Mass celebrated on Nov. 3 at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis.

“I am very, very excited” to be a part of this, said a smiling Jemie, a native of Nigeria, who has been a member of St. Lawrence Parish for 10 years and serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at the Indianapolis North Deanery faith community.

The celebration offered a way “of defining unity, and blending everybody—black, white, [people of all] colors—because we are one family,” said Jemie, who attended the celebration with her sister Amaka Ogbuehi, who was visiting from Lagos, Nigeria. “We are God’s children, so we are one.”

An estimated 200 people attended the liturgy, which included a choir which sang hymns in English and Spanish. The prayers of the faithful were also offered in several languages.

A Dominican brother who lived from 1579 to 1639 in Lima, Peru, Martin de Porres was the son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed Panamanian slave of African descent.

He grew up in poverty and struggled with the stigma of being of mixed race in a time of great prejudice. But he showed great compassion for all people, no matter their race or background.

After starting to work at age 12 as an apprentice to a barber—who also served as a surgeon in those days—he was accepted a few years later as a lay helper in the Dominican order. After nine years, the community, impressed with his prayer life, humility and love, invited him to profess vows.

In his ministry for the Dominicans, he answered the door for visitors, maintained the linen closet, cared for the medical needs of the friars, and distributed bread to hunger beggars.

Outside the monastery, St. Martin founded an orphanage, visited the sick and dying, visited criminals in prison, and cared for African slaves at the New World’s busiest port of Lima.

In his homily reflecting on the Gospel reading from Matthew (Mt 22:34-40) selected for the liturgy, Father Thomas Schliessmann noted that although the Pharisees and Sadducees attempted to trap Jesus, he used the opportunity as a teaching moment to highlight two commandments.

“Loving the Lord God—the Lord our God—is the primary activity of life and worship,” said Father Schliessmann, who is pastor of St. Lawrence and was the principal celebrant of the liturgy. A second commandment, “to love our neighbor as ourselves, is found and emphasized in the Letter to the Romans [chapter 13], Galatians [chapter five] and James [chapter two].

“In Christ’s answer to the officials, he invites everyone to enter the heart of God’s revelation. That heart is to love,” he continued.

St. Martin de Porres, he noted, offered a faith-filled example on following these two tenets.

“St. Martin lived a life at the heart of the Gospel. He loved. He loved as Christ loved,” Father Schliessmann said.

Christ tells us that, first and foremost, we, too, are to love God, the priest continued.

“And it is no surprise then that if we truly love God—we will love who God loves—which is every person God has made,” Father Schliessmann said. “God has made every person in his image and likeness.

“St. Martin loved—and loves—who God loves.”

The liturgy, which came only a few days after the Solemnity of All Saints, reminds us that we are all called to be saints, Father Schliessmann noted.

“St. Martin teaches us that being a saint is what Christ means by true power,” he said. “Power is not in making people do what we want. Holiness is embracing both: boldness and humility; intercultural diversity and unity.”

Saul Llacsa, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic ministry, said at the end of the Mass that St. Martin de Porres, who was canonized in 1962 by St. John XXIII and is the patron of people of mixed race and those who work for social justice, is one of his favorite saints. He also noted that his feast day is an appropriate time to celebrate our rich, cultural diversity.

“The Church welcomes us, every single day, and in every moment,” Llacsa said. “The Church welcomes everybody, every language, every race, because we are all children of God, and we are all one family.” †

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