Joyous song and prayer filled the ears of more than 600 faithful gathered at St. Joseph Church, York, where the Diocese’s annual Black History Mass was held on February 5. Bishop Ronald Gainer welcomed Bishop Jerome Feudjio, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as the main celebrant. Bishop Feudjio, an African native of Cameroon, was appointed by Pope Francis in March 2021 to head the island diocese.
The annual Mass also draws priests and faithful from other dioceses, including Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. Dotting the pews with colorful African garb, faithful from the Catholic Women’s Association in Delaware presented the Book of the Gospel to Bishop Feudjio during Mass as the Lancaster-based African Swahili Choir raised their voices to God with the ancient melodic chants of sacred African hymns. It was a spirited Eucharist-focused liturgy filled with praise and worship.
In his homily, Bishop Feudjio thanked Bishop Gainer for the warm invitation to the Diocese, and he also expressed his deep gratitude to the faithful of the Diocese who generously helped his twice-ravaged diocese after category 5 hurricanes toppled St. Thomas’s infrastructure a few years ago. The bishop said the island was without power for four days, and if not for the care packages, many coming from St. Leo the Great Parish in Rohrerstown, and youth groups, many in his diocese would not have had the essentials to survive the twice harrowing experience.
“In Africa, when someone touches your life in a great way, you must come and say thank you. That is what we do in Africa, and that is what I am doing today,” Bishop Feudjio told the congregation. “Jesus said to his disciples that, ‘you are the salt of the earth,’ and I am telling you that you are the salt of the earth, light of the world. It is up to each one of us how we are going to be salt, light…. As a diocese you have shared your bread with us, and we have eaten your bread – thanks be to God. Never let geographical borders separate us.”
The bishop also noted that African-Americans have painful memories of oppression and terrorism, but nonetheless, whether good or bad, “we have life giving memories and from the rooftops we can declare that we are making it.” Bishop Feudjio finished his homily telling the faithful, “This is a celebration of unity, but it is in our DNA to resist murder and segregation…. So many of us go to church not knowing who was sitting next or behind us – that is not how we of African descent live; we do not. The spirit of God must be in us, move us to love yet never forgetting our heritage. Hope is life, despair is darkness. Do not bury your gift, but share it. Light always overcomes darkness.”
The annual Mass was celebrated just days after the Holy Father made a pastoral visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – two regions still suffering the effects of political corruption and bloody civil war amongst warring militia factions that continue to kill innocent peoples every day. “The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood,” Pope Francis told more than a million Africans who attended Holy Mass in Kinshasa, Congo, in the sweltering heat. “This is a tragedy to which the economically more advanced world often closes its eyes, ears and mouth.”
Prior to Mass, Angele Mbassi, director of the Diocesan Black Catholic Apostolate, said, “The annual Mass celebration is always a great time and is significant to the people of the Black Apostolate. It’s a time to celebrate their cultural identity… shared experience of all African-Americans, high, low, famous obscure and how these experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America.”
Back in Bishop Feudjio’s Diocese of St. Thomas, the holy Mass was live streamed via the bishop’s cell phone. The lonely cell phone, set on a small tripod in the rear of the church, was a visible, yet silent reminder of how salt and light are connected void of borders.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness