ROCHESTER — The sounds of African drumming spilled from Sacred Heart Cathedral into the warm autumn air outside on Oct. 12, which was “a day of joy,” according to Father Robert Bradler, diocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
The joyful sounds coming from the cathedral were part of the Diocese of Rochester’s second-annual Mass and celebration to show solidarity with Africa and draw attention to World Mission Sunday, which will be Oct. 19. That day all diocesan parishes will take up a special collection in support of mission work around the world.
A number of African customs and traditions were highlighted during the Mass, which was prefaced with a traditional sweeping ceremony symbolizing a cleansing of the sacred space where the liturgy took place. The liturgy also featured the music and dancing of the Bata Con Pies Drum and Dance Ensemble, the Immaculate Conception Liturgical Dancers, and the gospel choirs of Immaculate Conception and St. Bridget parishes, both in Rochester.
Liturgical dance is a refreshing addition to any liturgy, said dancer and Immaculate Conception parishioner Leslie Pierre-Philippe.
“It’s another form of prayer,” she told the Catholic Courier after the Mass.
Pierre-Philippe danced at last year’s African Mass, as did fellow parishioner Mahlaysia Johnson, and both said they think the Mass is a valuable asset to the community.
“It’s another way to bring the community together and make them aware of the different cultures that are right here,” Pierre-Philippe said.
After the liturgy, volunteers from various diocesan- and parish-sponsored projects — including Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community’s St. John’s Kenyan Outreach — were on hand to explain how they support ministries, communities and individuals in Africa. Fair-trade goods produced in Kenya, Cameroon, Rwanda and Tanzania also were on sale.
Last year’s African Mass was planned to commemorate the 2006 trip of Bishop Matthew H. Clark and Father Joseph Hart, vicar general, to the home dioceses of several African priests serving as externs in this diocese. The liturgy was so well-received that it quickly became an annual tradition, said Mercy Sister Janet Korn, social-justice awareness coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities and a member of the diocesan African Awareness Committee.
Many African priests serving in the Rochester Diocese were touched by the bishop’s 2006 trip to Africa, noted Father Felix Dalimpuo, temporary coadministrator at St. Michael Parish in Newark.
“There is nothing more satisfying than to know that the bishop under whom we serve is interested in knowing who we are and where we come from,” Father Dalimpuo said. “It is very comforting to know that we are appreciated and loved … because of the difference we make in the lives of many of our faithful.”
Simply through their presence in this diocese, more than a dozen African priests serving here have helped local Catholics learn more about African countries and their strengths and struggles, he said. Prior to meeting African priests, these people often knew little more about Africa than what they saw in the news about the continent’s wars and poverty, he noted.
The Catholic Church in Africa is young, enthusiastic and rapidly growing, thanks in large part to European and American missionaries’ efforts in the last several decades, Father Dalimpuo said. However, he noted, the African church still faces problems.
“The church in Africa is a growing church, but it’s also a very poor church because the people are poor and cannot contribute significantly to the church. There is an urgent need for funding to train priests in Africa. Africa relies mainly on funding from the Propagation of the Faith,” Father Dalimpuo said.
African priests often view service in American dioceses as a way of giving thanks for missionaries’ efforts in their nations and for the financial assistance African dioceses have received, he said.
“It is not because Africa has too many priests, so they let some go to America. There is a joy in giving and receiving,” he said.
Such events as the African Mass serve to remind Catholics of all cultures and ethnicities that although they each enjoy different customs and traditions, they are bound by a common faith and the common call to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, Bishop Clark noted in his homily.
“We know that we are deeply challenged in our world today. Hopefully this will remind us we can make a difference and remind us we should make a difference by using generously the gifts God gave us to bring unity and encouragement and hope to our brothers and sisters,” he said.