African Catholic Committee holds first meeting

CHESTNUT HILL — When Anges Lugira and her family fled Uganda over 25 years ago and arrived in the United States as refugees, they felt alone with only God to lean on. However, they soon learned that the Catholic Church in America was very different from the Catholic Church in their native land.

They missed the lively Masses, the dancing and clapping that were a large part of their celebrations of the Eucharist and the close relationships they had with their priests. Trying to feel more at home in the U.S., Lugira and her family became active in the Archdiocese of Boston and became involved in the local Ugandan Catholic community.

Last February, Lugira took things a step further by becoming the founding coordinator of the Committee for African Pastoral Concerns. Working together with the Archdiocese of Boston’s Office of Ethnic Apostolates, Lugira helped to organize the group’s first official “get together” Nov. 13 at Boston College. The meeting was called “An African Catholic Committee: Unity in Diversity.”

“In some ways, Africans have been under-served in the archdiocese. They have met with the problems of not feeling accepted or welcomed,” said Lugira. “We needed a group to address their concerns.” 

“The way we pray and worship is different,” she continued. “As Africans, you feel as if you are not praying here because at home our services are more alive with dancing and singing.”

Another difference, Lugira said, is that African culture is firmly rooted in religion and religion cannot be separated from culture. This can be seen in the names parents give their children. Even non-Christians in Africa name their children after saints and other religious figures, she said. Lugira’s own last name means “God is the One who does everything.”

Lugira explained that the meeting at B.C. was entitled “Unity in diversity” because “We are all Africans, but we are very diverse in our languages and in our customs. What unites us is the Eucharist.”

She compared the African committee to the disciples at Pentecost.

“The disciples, who were all in the same room, were speaking many different languages,” she said. “But because of the Holy Spirit, they all understood each other.”

The group aims to discuss the pastoral and social issues faced by African Catholics and to make them feel at home in the Church. Topics the committee discussed at their first meeting included the youth, family values and spirituality.

Several priests in the archdiocese already host Masses and services for Africans in their parishes. Every African nationality represented in the archdiocese has been accommodated by a different parish. For example, the Ugandan community, which Lugira belongs to, meets at Sacred Heart Parish in Waltham. While she stressed the immense gratitude Africans have for being welcomed into these parishes, Lugira said they also feel that they need to meet every so often as a larger group to be renewed and unified.

“We very much appreciate the Archdiocese of Boston and Archbishop Seán O’Malley for being so supportive of this,” she said. “They encourage us to praise in our own language. When you talk to God in your own language you really know what you are talking about, because words and hymns can be translated but the meaning is not always the same.”

The newly formed committee will meet once a month with a representative from each of the African communities active in the archdiocese. African Catholics originally from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Chad attended the first official meeting. While Lugira was pleased with the turnout, she knows there are many more Africans in the archdiocese that would like to become active in the Church.

“There are many people out there who we have not been able to reach,” she said. “We would like to know who they are, to visit them and to reach out to them.”

She encouraged Africans from all countries to contact her at 781-937-3954 or call the Office of Ethnic Apostolates at 617-746-5805, if they would like to become involved.

“When we pray together, we feel at home,” she said.