Our cathedral church is frequently the site of festive celebrations of the Eucharist to mark special occasions. Such was the case on Mission Sunday, Oct. 23, when our local church rejoiced in the many wonderful relationships we have with the church in many dioceses in Africa.
In recent years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a large number of our dioceses have responded vigorously to the urgings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to establish relationships with local churches on that great continent for the benefit of all concerned.
We in the Diocese of Rochester have been engaged in the process of developing such relationships in a special way since the bishops of Kenya began sending some of their priests to be educated at St. John Fisher College 40 years ago. The college and the Basilian Fathers were the original hosts of those priests and to this day remain friends of the effort and generous benefactors as well.
In the very early years, some of our local parishes actively participated in housing these
priest-students and began offering them opportunities for ministry.
As the years passed, we also have received priests from African dioceses in Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana. Some of these priests have come for study; others have been sent for a few years of ministry among us by bishops who want them to learn about the pastoral life of the church in this country. In several cases our friends have come for both ministry and study.
Priests have not been the only ones to come to our diocese from Africa. For several years we have enjoyed the friendship and presence of sisters from Tanzania who have come for education at Nazareth College so that they can return home and, through education, better help the situation of women in their native land. This has been made possible through the generosity of Nazareth College, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy and their friends.
In addition to these educational/ministerial efforts, parishes and schools in our diocese enjoy significant and mutually beneficial relationships with parishes, schools and health-care facilities in Africa. I
also am aware that several individuals in our diocese have in quiet and unassuming ways poured heart and soul, time, money and energy into deepening such relationships.
These relationships are what we wanted to celebrate in a special way on Mission Sunday. And, celebrate we did. We prayed and sang in a variety of languages. Several women, men and children dressed as they would dress for liturgy in their respective homelands. Dance and drum rhythms from several cultures enlivened the assembly, whose voices raised in song flooded our cathedral church with beauty.
Following the liturgy there was a reception in the narthex at which people from different cultures could share food, drink and conversation. At the same time, they could learn about some fascinating African-American connections now existing and dream about possibilities for the future.
Among the lingering awareness I have had since the event is that we always grow and learn in wonderful ways when we experience the company of — and trade gifts, stories and experiences with — people who come from other places. When we see the faces and touch the hands of such sisters and brothers, we grow in our awareness that we’re part of the same human family. We are people who dream the same dreams; want the same things for our children and loved ones; desire good education, health care and gainful employment.
As modern communications continue to shrink the globe, we become more and more aware of such realities. Thank God our faith gives us a context with which to deal with them, i.e., that we are all children of God made in God’s own image and likeness.
Peace to all.