Chelmsford parish reaches out to African community

A growing African community at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Chelmsford inspired an African-themed Mass on July 18. Church attendance at the 11:00 Mass is around 300 during the year and less during the summer. On July 18 the church, which seats 700, was full.

The Mass, a first for suburban churches in the area, began with a Ghanaian choir singing as they processed to the front of the church. The choir from Christ the King Church in the Bronx wore orange robes with green stoles and sometimes waved white handkerchiefs while singing and clapping. Their director, Pius Wiafe-Akenteng, waved his arms and swayed to the music in a kind of conducting dance. Members of the choir played drums, keyboard and tambourine.

"We here in Boston aren't sure if we like the Bronx because of the team that plays baseball there, but we have found something to love in this choir," Father Paul Ritt, pastor at St. John's, said to the congregation. "What energy they bring us in our liturgy."

Father Ritt said the purpose of the Mass was to honor roots, both African and Catholic, of the increasing number of African parishioners. “All of you from the Black Catholic community are welcome here at St. John’s,” he said. Since he came to the parish a year ago, he has seen the African community grow and hopes it will continue to grow, he said.

Father Paul Ameyaw, from the diocese of Sunyani in Ghana, delivered the homily. African parishoners, who organized the event, offered the prayers of the faithful in different African languages including Mende, Ghanaian, Cameroonian and Nigerian.

Traditional African foods were served after Mass.

Several Mass-goers, including Seona Ban, wore traditional African outfits. She said about the Mass, “It’s very nice. I love it.”

Ban moved from the Republic of Cameroon in West Africa to the United States a year ago.

When asked if she would like to see St. John’s have another Mass like this one she said simply, “Of course.”

Mbiye Tshibamba would also like to see more Masses like this one. He moved from the Congo to the United States three years ago. “I wish they could make it once a month,” he said. “It would be better for us. We like this live Mass.”

Native Africans were not the only ones in attendance hoping to experience another African-themed Mass. Leon Narbut enjoyed the costumes and color and found the Mass uplifting, he said.

"It's a first for our parish," said Narbut. "We should do it more often."

Ruth Monahan of Chelmsford said she enjoyed the Mass very much, “It’s always exciting to see a little slice of another part of the world.”

"It was very invigorating," said Joanna Palladino of Lowell. "It makes you in the spirit."

Eight year old Shantay Jalbert also enjoyed the liturgy but had her own suggestions for any held in the future.

"Don't make it too long," and "make sure there's food every time we have Mass," she said.