Pentecost celebrated in an 'African context'

A burning desire to give thanks, derived from the harvest time in Africa, filled St. Stephen Church in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood June 3 as worshippers celebrated Pentecost with the third annual African Joy Mass of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritan Father Simon LoBon, administrator of St. Stephen Parish and originally from Kenya in East Africa, welcomed those in attendance.

“We are celebrating Pentecost in the African context,” he said. “Pentecost is the beginning of the church and its mission when Jesus empowered his apostles to spread the good news to the nations.”

As people gathered to worship before Mass, Father Camillus Njoku, parochial vicar at St. Patrick Parish in Canonsburg, served as master of ceremonies.

The Mass began with Diana James, originally from Nigeria and a member of St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, leading her parish’s 20-member choir in singing a soothing African hymn and medley from Botswana called “Siyahamba,” a Swahili word meaning “We are marching.”

Three barefoot liturgical dancers led by Winny Benaiah moved expressively to the altar as the pungent aroma of incense scented the air. The choir and people sang together, clapped, waved hands and swayed to the rhythm of the pounding drums. Eight flags representing some of the nations of Africa were displayed and placed in stands.

Concelebrating the Mass with Fathers LoBon and Njoku was Father Carmen D’Amico, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands; Father Louis Vallone, pastor of St. John of God Parish in McKees Rocks and St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Crescent; Father John Odeyemi, parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew Parish in Penn Hills; Father Chike Anyigbo, Father Kenneth Oguzie, Father Isidore Nkwocha and Father Lazarus Langbiir, priests in residence at St. Stephen; Father Augustine Wayii, priest in residence at Epiphany Parish in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood; Father Jerome Etenduk, priest in residence at SS. Simon and Jude Parish in Scott Township; Father Daniel Adjei, priest in residence at St. Maurice Parish in Forest Hills; and Father Elochukwu Uzukwu, associate theology professor, Duquesne University.

Assisting them were Deacon Reynold Wilmer of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Wilmerding and St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in East McKeesport; Deacon Thomas Berna of St. Stephen; and Deacon Leonard Thomas of St. John of God and St. Catherine of Siena.

Father Wayii, of the Diocese of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, delivered the homily with a theme to have and live the experience of the upper room like Christ’s early disciples.

As a church, it is very important to celebrate diversity to better appreciate one another as children of the Father, he said. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

“Three things were very symbolic: the rushing wind, tongues of fire and speaking in different tongues,” Father Wayii said.

Without the presence of the Spirit in us, we cannot exist and function as Christians, he told the congregation. The disciples moved from “fear to faith, from terror to testimony and from cowardice to courage,” Father Wayii said.

In his final words, he urged the people to let their experience in this “upper room” today be seen outside the “upper room” in our actions. We need a deep sense of solidarity, care and love for one another, Father Wayii said.

After Mass, everyone was invited to St. Stephen Hall for a reception with authentic African food consisting of rice, plantains, puff-puff and goat, prepared and donated by Dr. Yinka Aganga-Williams of Nigeria. Ladies of Charity of the parish served meals, beverages and cookies baked by parishioners for dessert. Lay Spiritans volunteered their services to accommodate attendees.

Moses Simmons, a member of St. Benedict the Moor, has attended all three African Joy Masses with his wife.

“I like the diversity,” he said. “It brings people together. I could see so many people were enjoying it and participating. The African priests bring a richness, spirituality and a oneness to the church.”

The 2018 African Joy Mass is scheduled for St. Richard Parish in Richland Township.