Faith of Africa and America
ROCHESTER -- Hand drums beating, women's voices harmonizing in foreign tongues and a swaying congregation decked in colorful garb. All these signs could mean only one thing: For the second year in a row, the Roman Catholic Community of the 19th Ward was celebrating African spirituality.
Titled "A Celebration of the Oneness of the People of God," the Jan. 29-30 celebration drew scores of African Catholics from such nations as Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Togo, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa.
The celebration began with a potluck supper and African dance presentation on Jan. 29 at Scutari Hall in the lower level of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Brooks Avenue. Then, on Jan. 30, a Global Outreach Mass was celebrated at St. Augustine's Church on Chili Avenue. In addition to these two churches, St. Monica's on Genesee Street also belongs to the 19th Ward community.
For many of those present at the Sunday Mass, the celebration was both a joyous affirmation of their ties to their homeland across the ocean, as well as a poignant reminder of the sometimes painful situations they left behind.
Amos Boway, a refugee from Liberia's civil war in west Africa, fled to the neighboring nation of Ivory Coast in 1998 when he thought one of the Liberian factions might conscript him to fight. He lived in Ivory Coast until 2003, and has been resettled in Rochester through Catholic Family Center's refugee resettlement program. He now lives here with his wife, two children and two grandchildren.
Boway said the lively Mass reminded him of liturgies back home.
"I very much appreciate the 19th Ward for uniting various cultures," he said, adding that his Catholic faith sustained him through years of heartbreak.
"When you are faced with war, you are actually tested in faith," Boway said. "But without faith, you cannot make it through. ... No matter what the situation, the Lord was always with us."
Rachael Ludili and her husband, James, were among the Sudanese refugees who participated in the Sunday Mass. Their homeland, Sudan, recently celebrated the end of a decades-long civil war between Arab Muslims in the north and Sudan's black southern inhabitants, many of whom are animists -- believers in the existence of spirits -- and Christians.
Rachael Ludili, who sang at the Mass, said the war had displaced her and her husband from their village in Sudan. Resettled in Rochester through Catholic Family Center, the couple said they enjoyed the African celebration.
"It was very nice," Rachael said of the dinner. "We celebrated African music, African food."
Celebrating African spirituality is also crucial, according to Father Massdiile Onyenibeadi, MSP, who resides at St. Monica's. The Nigerian native, who is studying clinical pastoral education at Strong Memorial Hospital, spoke at the Mass and noted that African spirituality is rooted in names.
"If you ask somebody their name, they will tell you what it means," Father Onyenibeadi said. "The names mean (Africans) believe every child is a gift of God."
His own name means "The Mass is efficacious," the priest said, noting that his name is rooted in the circumstances of his birth. His mother was in danger of dying from a natural delivery, and a Caesarean delivery was slated, he said. However, his father asked that a Mass be celebrated for her in the hospital chapel, and not only did she survive the birth of the future priest, she was able to deliver him naturally.
Another African priest, Father Paul Gitau of Kenya, sacramental minister for the 19th Ward churches, said it was important to bring together the different African Catholic communities in the diocese.
"Africans are very social," he said. "They like celebrations. They believe in extended family and community affairs."
The celebration was organized by the 19th Ward's Global Outreach to Newcomers Committee, according to Denise Lourette-Brady, an African-American native of Rochester, and Ester Akeem, a Ugandan. The women noted that the 19th Ward churches have made learning about Catholic ethnic cultures a priority, and plan to incorporate Irish dancing into their upcoming St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
"The spirituality is different from group to group, but we're all Catholic and universal," Lourette-Brady said.