African Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently gathered to celebrate their faith — and a rich array of cultural traditions.

Some 325 were on hand for the African Family Heritage Mass, celebrated by Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald Oct. 23 at St. Irenaeus Church (part of Divine Mercy Parish) in Philadelphia.

(View a photo gallery from the African Family Heritage Mass.)

The liturgy was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for African Catholics’ African Catholic Community Apostolate, several clergy from which served as concelebrants, and organized by Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary Florence Enechukwu, archdiocesan coordinator for pastoral care of African Catholics.


Attendees, many in native attire, represented at least 14 of the 54 African countries recognized by the United Nations, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Delegates from the African Catholic community of the Diocese of Harrisburg were also on hand.

Scripture, prayers and hymns were offered in the languages of Akan, Bissa, Ewe, Ewondo, Igbo, Kifuliiru, Krio, Susu, Swahili and Tigrinya — a sampling of the estimated 2,000 languages spoken on the African continent — as well as English, French, Latin and Portuguese. Liturgical movement was provided by the archdiocesan Nigerian Youth Group.

“Let’s give ourselves to the holy God,” said Samuel Abu, leader of the archdiocesan Liberian Catholic Community, adding that “the best way to communicate with your Master is to do it in the language and culture that you understand best.”

Abu, a refugee services specialist for archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, welcomed attendees in a number of languages, highlighting the “exquisite display of African attire and culture” on display.

Samuel Abu, leader of the archdiocesan Liberian Catholic Community, told faithful at the Oct. 23 African Family Heritage Mass “the best way to communicate with your Master is to do it in the language and culture that you understand best.” (Gina Christian)

Bishop Fitzgerald noted the liturgy coincided with World Mission Sunday, a time to “remember that all of us, as the Holy Father tells us, are in one way or the other missionaries.”

He commended the “great work of many missionaries who over the years have brought faith in Jesus Christ to many different cultures,” including those exemplified at the Mass.

The bishop also mourned the loss of missionaries recently slain on the African continent, “particularly in Nigeria, where … priests and sisters have sacrificed their lives through the persecution of the church. But Jesus overcomes.”

Demographically, the African continent is poised to become Christianity’s new center of gravity. According to the Pew Research Center, more than four in 10 Christians will be in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

Vatican statistics through 2020 indicate that 18.9% of the world’s 1.36 billion Catholics live in Africa, where they are served by 12.3% of the world’s priests.

That same faith remains vibrant among African Catholics in the U.S.

“We really enjoy celebrating the Mass in our African way,” said George Mbiu, a member of the Kenyan Catholic community and a parishioner at St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. “Every community is using their native language. … There’s a lot of singing, and you can see the colors of African attire. It makes the whole celebration very beautiful. We look forward every year to coming.”

Fellow Kenyan Catholic and St. Katherine parishioner Hannah Njenga agreed.

“It’s a joyful moment for us,” she said.

Several African Catholic choirs assisted at the Oct. 23 African Family Heritage Mass. (Gina Christian)