Rejoicing, revival and renewal — these themes celebrated by the worldwide church on Gaudete Sunday were especially evident at a Mass for young adults Sunday, Dec. 13 at St. James Church, Elkins Park.
The celebration was the third in a series of pilgrimage Masses sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) and coordinated by the office’s director, Assumption Sister Gertude Borres, and her enthusiastic team of PCMR young adult leaders representing multicultural Catholic communities throughout the archdiocese.
They include Williamina Lebaga, representing Cameroon; Taurean Whitfield and Imani Scutt, representing African Americans; Melissa and Yoline Scutt (Haiti); Dale Tan (Philippines) and Angela Dakyung Kim (Korea).
The pilgrimage Masses, occurring every second Sunday of the month, are an opportunity for young people to immerse themselves in worship led by different cultural communities.
Sunday’s Mass, sponsored by Asian Catholic Communities, was enlivened with music, readings and greetings from the Indonesian, Korean, Filipino, Indian-Knanaya and Indian-Jesus Movement communities. They were accompanied by Laura Place and Kim Barroso of St. Augustine Parish as well as Varun Janna of the Penn Newman Center with their stunning liturgical music throughout the celebration.
St. James’ pastor, Father Efren Esmilla, beamed from the altar telling pilgrims, “Remember you always have a friend here.” His welcoming spirit was echoed by parishioners from the Filipino community, who handed out homemade lunches to go.
This food ministry is supported weekly at the parish by Dr. Tito and Gloria Tango, who prepare the meals. Pompey Juanola and Norma Jamil are regular volunteers helping to organize and distribute the lunches.
Bishop John McIntyre celebrated the Mass alongside Father Esmilla, Father Livinus Ugochukwu of the Nigerian community and Father Tariq Isaac of the Pakistani community.
The bishop’s homily, encouraging young people to know who they are in the eyes of the Lord, echoes the mission of the PCMR Young Adults.
Yoline Scutt, who began her journey with PCMR in 2016, said the idea for the pilgrimage Masses came about as the group gathered to respond to Pope Francis’ 2019 letter to young people, “Christus Vivit,” and the USCCB’s “Journeying Together” initiative titled “A National Catholic Intercultural Encounter for Ministries with Youth and Young Adults.”
(Watch a video by Archbishop Nelson Perez, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.)
“Young people feel not heard and not seen by the church, so they are leaving,” Scutt said. The pilgrimage Masses are one way to invite them back home and take their seat at the table with bishops and parish priests.
Dale Tan added to this sentiment in his address to the community at the conclusion of the Mass. “Our diversity is the bedrock of the Christian community, because no matter where you come from, no matter what your culture is, no matter who you are, you can find a home in the House of the Lord, for the House of the Lord is a house of prayer for all peoples,” Tan said.
PCMR is drawing more people to the table, a visible sign of the unity of persons celebrated in each eucharistic liturgy.
In addition to the various young adult communities, PCMR Masses enlist the participation and support of Dr. Ferfi Aczona and Norma Jamil, leaders of the Filipino community; Patrick Travers, director of the Penn Newman Center; and Matt Davis, director of the archdiocesan Office for Ministry with Young Adults.
Instead of the cacophony of voices one might expect with the participation of so many groups, PCMR has found unity in Jesus Christ.
To illustrate, Dale Tan called on each member of the congregation to proclaim “Christ is alive” in their own language. After listening to the multitude of voices fill the sanctuary, he reflected that at first, “we hear so many voices in so many different languages and our ears are overwhelmed. We pick up some words here and there, and it is hard to understand all the voices. But if you listen with your heart, you will realize that despite all of those differences, we are all saying the same thing about our Savior: that he is alive in each of us,” Tan said.
Taurean (Tory) Whitfield related his story of coming to recognize Christ’s life in him.
“When I was younger, I was forced to go to church … I fell away,” he said.
Today his eyes light up as he describes finding his home in the church once again through his own searching, guided by the writings in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul and St. John.
Tory calls on other young people to “seek him on your own; God will speak to you in his own way,” he said.
PCMR has helped him to listen to the voice of God in his life, as well as encountering the voice of God in other members of his rich and diverse body. “Each person adds something different. Some listen and others speak,” Whitfield said.
The PCMR leaders are formed in the faith through virtual weekly meetings occurring on Zoom to go out and bring other young people back to the church.
Koosi Sontou of St. Cyprian Parish in West Philadelphia explains the goal is not to change the church but to “uplift the church” by bringing one’s own youth and energy.
All are welcome to next month’s pilgrimage Mass at St. Cyprian’s in the city’s Cobbs Creek section.
Sister Gertrude’s heartfelt invitation goes to all those who are young and young at heart: “Archbishop Nelson Perez wants to meet all of you during the celebration of the Mass on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021 at 3:30 p.m. in St. Cyprian’s Church,” she said.
The church is located at 525 Cobbs Creek Parkway at Cedar Avenue, Philadelphia 19143.
A dialogue with Archbishop Nelson Perez follows.
“Your voice is important regarding what you live of your faith, culture and in community,” Sister Gertrude said.
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