December 9, 2011

‘We are all God’s children’

African Mass celebrates archdiocese’s various cultures

Holy Angels parishioner Marsha Carter of Indianapolis, left, and St. Rita parishioner Mary Guynn of Indianapolis present the offertory gifts during the African Catholic Mass on Dec. 4 at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Holy Angels parishioner Marsha Carter of Indianapolis, left, and St. Rita parishioner Mary Guynn of Indianapolis present the offertory gifts during the African Catholic Mass on Dec. 4 at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Mary Ann Garber

Vocalist Claudia Banks closed her eyes and lost herself in the music as she praised God by singing composer Donald Lawrence’s inspirational song “Encourage Yourself.”

Her beautiful voice filled St. Rita Church in Indianapolis on Dec. 4 during the annual Mass sponsored by the archdiocesan African Catholic Ministry. (See a photo gallery from the event)

“Sometimes you have to encourage yourself,” Banks sang, accompanied by St. Rita Parish choir members. “Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test. And no matter how you feel, speak the word and you will be healed. … Encourage yourself in the Lord.”

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator and principal celebrant, smiled as he listened to the talented St. Rita parishioner sing from her heart during the joyful, multicultural Advent liturgy.

The uplifting song continued the theme of Bishop Coyne’s homily, which focused on gratitude to God for many blessings.

“The Good News is the victory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the victory over sin and death, the victory over brokenness, the victory over what separates us from the love of God and from each other,” Bishop Coyne said. “That’s the victory you proclaim. That’s the Good News. And that’s the victory that you and I have taken upon ourselves as Christians. Christ is victorious. He is the victor and we, his people, share that with him.”

But when times get tough, we sometimes forget how much we owe God, he said. “Granted, there are times when it’s hard to feel full of praise for God or feel victorious. … It’s easy to be faithful when things are going good. It’s when things are tough that we’re called to be faithful, that we’re called to find our way to God.”

To overcome discouragement, Bishop Coyne told the gathering, “think about how there have been moments in our lives when we’ve been victorious over brokenness, when we’ve found great love in the people that we know, when we’ve had such great faith to be able to do such wonderful things, when we’ve turned away from sin in our lives.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of thinking, ‘I’m in between victories at this moment, but I’m moving toward something that is good,’ ” he said, “that ‘God is blessing me and filling me with his goodness,’ that ‘I have this sense of where I’m going,’ that ‘the victory of Christ is so much a part of my life,’ and that ‘the Good News lives in my life.’

“I like to think that Christians, as people of hope, can infect the world around us with our [positive] attitude,” Bishop Coyne explained, “… our attitude of victory, that Christ has brought us the Good News and we bear the Good News. We can find it in our lives and live the good life.”

Wherever we are and whatever we do, he said, we can say “Praise the Lord” and do the best things we can to offer God praise and live that victory in daily life.

“My encouragement to all of us today is to let the Good News ring in our hearts, to be a people of the victory of Christ, and let it be spread from this place and be Good News to everyone that needs to hear it,” Bishop Coyne said, “and to be strengthened by the word of God, by the praise and worship that we share and, most especially, by the Eucharist, which we are so fortunate to receive.”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Holy Angels parishioner Sally Stovall of Indianapolis, coordinator of the archdiocesan African Catholic Ministry, presented a handmade purple chasuble to Bishop Coyne as a thank you gift then several African Catholics taught him how to say words in their native languages.

Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa Sister Demetria Smith, a member of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis, assisted with the liturgy as commentator.

“In the African culture,” Sister Demetria said, “giving thanks to God in all circumstances is a very common and important practice.”

The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver also participated in the Mass.

After the liturgy, St. Rita parishioner Charles Guynn of Indianapolis, a Knight of Peter Claver, said it was quite an honor to have the bishop serve as the principal celebrant with five other priests.

“It was a tremendous service,” Guynn said, “and it was good to have the bishop here with us. … You could tell he was enjoying the service.”

St. Rita parishioner Mary Guynn, Charles Guynn’s mother, helped present the offertory gifts to Bishop Coyne.

“He’s got the heart,” she said of the bishop after the Mass.

African Catholics from several parishes prepared a variety of ethnic recipes from their home countries, and were thrilled when Bishop Coyne joined them for a meal and social time in the parish hall.

“I come every time they have an African Mass,” Mary Guynn said. “It helps us to realize that we are all God’s children.” †

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