By Arlene Edmonds
Special to the CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Chief Buffy Red Feather Brown said that Philadelphia Catholics are “a multicultural community” as evidenced by the spanersity of ethnic attire in the opening procession of the 12th Annual National Migration Week Mass held at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Sunday March 8.

Father Joseph Watson, director of the Office of Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees, called it “a beautiful testament to the universality of the Catholic faith.”

Indeed, the fact that the Catholic Church is worldwide was never more evident than at the Mass, which brought together members of many ethnic communities in the Archdiocese.

“I am blessed and humbled to be here bringing greetings from the Native American community,” said Brown in her welcome remarks. She added that all were united spiritually.

The music for the Mass reflected the afternoon’s international flavor. There was African polyrhythmic drumming and dancing leading off the procession and the light percussive sounds of the Cherokee community as they sung “North Wind” during the offertory.

The Korean community sang “My Lord Jesus Christ,” followed by “Come Around Me” by Haitian vocalists during Communion. Brazilian singers sang “The Boat,” before an Italian ensemble delivered, “Pescador de Hombres” as the recessional hymn.

Among those who participated in the 2 p.m. procession were Catholics from Haiti, Pakistan, China, France, Laos and Poland. The petitions were delivered in German, Liberian, Igbo, Indonesian and Maylayalam, the language spoken in the Syro-Malankara Catholic rite of India. Cambodian children presented the offertory gifts to Cardinal Justin Rigali.

“It is great to welcome so many nations of immigrants and Native Americans,” said Cardinal Rigali in his homily. He pointed out that the Migration Mass held special significance during this year dedicated to St. Paul, since the apostle traveled extensively. The Cardinal stressed that the thing that bridged all the various cultural traditions was “our belief in Jesus Christ.”

“Our faith gives us hope so that we can be free from fears and worries,” he said. He quoted St. Paul’s words in Acts 18:9, “Be not afraid” before touching on the lessons from the second reading, Romans 8:31. The Cardinal added that despite ethnic differences all can turn to Jesus Christ, trust God and follow the model of the apostle Paul.

Juan Rodrigues, a native of Brazil who came to hear an acquaintance sing during the program, appreciated the Mass. He said that although he is Catholic, he does not regularly attend Mass. Coming to the Basilica Sunday and seeing the different nationalities inspired him to want to renew his faith.

“This is so beautiful,” Rodrigues said. “I didn’t know it was going to be like this. If I knew I would have brought my whole family. I didn’t know that they would have people from my country here. It really shows that the Catholic Church is not just a religion for one country or one race. It’s the true faith of every kind of people. You just look around and see it here.”

Perhaps no one was more pleased with the turnout for Sunday’s Mass than Jim King, the archdiocesan coordinator of the Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees.

“It’s really great to see so many different communities pull together,” King said. “They offered their resources and talents to help make the Migration Mass a success. In the two years I’ve been working on this program there has always been an overwhelming response from all the ethnic communities that we work with on a regular basis. That’s why everything always goes so well.”

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at