Swahili-speaking Catholics hope to draw fellow Africans back to the Church

| August 7, 2017 | 1 Comment

Participants in a convention for Swahili-speaking Catholics clap during Mass Aug. 6 at St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Peter Kairo has been retired for more than month, but he didn’t come to Minnesota for vacation.

“I’m retired, but I’m not tired,” the archbishop told nearly 100 Swahili-speaking Catholics Aug. 5, drawing laughter and applause at St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center.

He was the keynote speaker at an Aug. 5-6 Swahili convention at the parish, where he spoke of lay participation in the Church’s sacramental life. The archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Nyeri, Kenya, said “faith cannot grow without and deepen without receiving the seven sacraments.”

To emphasize the purpose of the sacraments, the archbishop also repeated the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Archbishop Kairo also emphasized that Jesus commissioned the apostles to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” and to baptize them. Jesus also asked for the apostle to spread his teaching, and he assured them of his continued presence for all time.

Swahili-speaking Catholics from around the Midwest gathered at St. Alphonsus for the convention to better live out the faith.

The convention had the theme “imani moja, tumaini, moja, upendo mmoja” or “one faith, one hope one love.”  The convention drew more than 150 people from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin. Some participants came from as far as Seattle.

Archbishop Peter Kairo’s opening address set the agenda for the convention. Breakout sessions on the sacraments followed. The first day also included Mass, adoration and confessions. On the second day, Archbishop Bernard Hebda joined Archbishop Kairo to celebrate a bilingual Mass.

“It’s food for thought for the spirit,” said Mercy Munene of the convention, a first-time event.

Swahili hymns sung by a St. Alphonsus choir added a taste of their homelands to the liturgies and events of the weekend. Swahili is spoken in eastern and southeastern Africa, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

“What unites us is the Swahili language,” said Munene, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus.

In recent years, St. Alphonsus has provided a home for Swahili-speaking Catholics to foster that unity. The St. Charles Luwanga community meets monthly at the parish to pray the rosary and attend Mass in Swahili. Redemptorist priest Father Donald Willard, pastor of St. Alphonsus, celebrates the Mass.

“Father Don has learned some Swahili; he has some cultural acclimation, too,” Munene said.

Munene said most Kenyans who come to the United States are Catholic, but some leave the Church after failing to find a parish where they feel welcome.

“The problem we had is people going to other churches,” she said. “We want them to come back to the Catholic faith.”

Members of St. Charles Luwanga, which draws people from as far away as Rochester and Mankato, hope to rectify that. Besides Mass and the rosary, the community provides support for children’s education, baptisms, weddings and funerals. About 150 people come to the gatherings.

In addition to drawing the Catholic community together, the convention intended to reach African Catholics who have drifted from the Church, Munene said.

In his address, Archbishop Kairo encouraged Catholics to study Scripture and the Church’s teachings so that they could evangelize. He also reminded them of St. Teresa of Kolkata’s advice in the process: “The best preaching is our own witness — how we live, how we relate, how we work and how pray.”

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