By Barb Fraze

Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) – More than 30,000 children from the Archdiocese of Nairobi had been sitting in Mass Feb. 19 for nearly four hours when the tall American priest taught them to howl like a wolf.

“When wolves are far apart, a wolf makes a special call, and it goes like this,” said Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States. After Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert translated into Swahili, Msgr. Kozar lifted his chin and howled. Then he got the children to try it – again and again, until they were loud enough.

“When we come back to visit and you see us far off, because we will be looking for our Missionary Childhood family, how are you going to greet us so we know our family is here?” he asked, and the children responded with a howl.

The yearly Mass with the local bishop is one of the highlights for many members of the Pontifical Society of the Missionary Childhood, known in the U.S. as the Holy Childhood Association. In the Archdiocese of Nairobi, this means Mass concelebrated by Cardinal John Njue and other priests. This year’s special guests included 10 diocesan Pontifical Mission Societies directors from throughout the United States, as well as Msgr. Kozar and Father Jalbert.{{more}}

The Mass set a record for most of the directors – more than four hours on the grounds of St. Mary’s School in temperatures surpassing 80 degrees. As delegation members who were priests concelebrated, others sat under one of the 10 large canopies – yellow and white, the Vatican colors – and interacted with the children throughout Mass.

Michele Meiers of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia invited a young child up to sit with her so he could better see the liturgical dancing. Sister Ursula Fotovich, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from Wichita, Kan., lifted him back over the chairs when he wanted to rejoin his friends.

As the heat increased, the children crowded on the grass in front of the canopies to try to find some shade. Deacon Edward Kelly of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., tapped the shoulder of the young boy next to him and gave him the thumbs-up sign.

During the 15-minute offertory procession, children from across the archdiocese carried gifts for less fortunate children in the archdiocese. The U.S. priests concelebrating Mass helped archdiocesan priests and staffers pass back items such as sugar, bananas, salt, chalk and slates, potatoes and toilet paper to be loaded onto trucks.

Meanwhile, team after team of liturgical dancers representing different deaneries within the archdiocese processed through the center of the crowd. Many were dressed in flowing skirts; some dressed in colorful T-shirts with their parish name; others wore street clothes.

After Communion, Father Moses Kago, archdiocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, called the U.S. delegation to the front of the altar, and a group of children presented a plaque to Msgr. Kozar, sending a special message to the children of America that they loved and prayed for them. They also presented a plaque to Cardinal Njue thanking him for his support and telling him, too, that they loved and prayed for him.

Then the children released yellow and white helium balloons, sending a message “that we pray (for) and love the children of America.” As the balloons were released, more than 30,000 heads swiveled upward to follow their progress, and the crowd cheered. Many shaded their eyes as the balloons drifted into the distance, and children pointed excitedly as they followed their progress.

Masses such as the one in Nairobi take place throughout the country in January and February.

Heather Lupinacci, who works in the mission office in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., noted the investment the Church is making in its future and said she liked Cardinal Njue’s comment, “Yes, you are children now, but you are the adults of tomorrow.”