“Be bold as a Catholic; fear no one.”
That was the advice that Father Milton Kiocha, AJ, the celebrant and homilist, gave to the congregation gathered on June 25 at St. Colman Church on Cleveland’s West Side for the annual Celebrating the Faith of Africa liturgy. This year’s theme was “Be Bold: Witness Christ by Your Life.”
“Do not be afraid of our message for you today,” Father Milton said. “Do you feel enlightened and empowered, or fearful and confused? I feel enlightened and empowered because of Jesus. The Scriptures speak to us more than 300 times telling us ‘do not be afraid; fear no one.’ The words of Jesus tell us to fear no one – to be bold,” he said, adding, Jesus said to us “Don’t be afraid – I’ve got your back.’”
He told a humorous story of a man stuck in a very tall tree who was hanging on for fear of falling. The man called out for help several times before he heard a voice asking, “Do you believe in me? If so, let go of the branch,” Father Milton said. “The man thought for a bit and then asked, ‘Is there anybody else up there?’”
Father Milton told the congregation, “Do not let fear ruin your future. Love knows no fear. We overflow with grace.” He said fear is connected to punishment, but Jesus removed that for us by his sacrifice – the paschal mystery.
“Be bold,” he urged the faithful. “Speak your faith, love and hope to God. This is not a theory. It’s the story of my faith. Love never fails.”
The Mass incorporated traditions, customs and the language of several African nations. Leading the entrance procession were liturgical dancers from St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima Parish, which hosted the Mass last year.
The first reading was read in Swahili, a language of East Africa. The second reading was in Krahn, a language of Liberia. The Gospel was proclaimed in English and the Universal Prayer was read in English, Lingala, Toma, French, Ibo and Tsusi, other languages spoken in parts of Africa. The music incorporated drums and African songs.
The offertory procession included gifts for the poor: fruit, flowers, kola nuts, rice and water, which were presented in baskets and displayed in front of the altar, plus the bread and wine.
The altar cloth was a brightly colored African design and Father Milton wore a colorful chasuble while the deacon and concelebrants wore the traditional green for ordinary time.
Many in the congregation wore colorful native dress, including head coverings for women and tunic-style shirts for men. Vanessa Griffin Campbell, director of the Ministry to African American Catholics, said the Mass rotates among parishes throughout the diocese. She said it has been an annual event for about 15 years.
“We put out a call in January to see who’s interested in hosting, and most parishes say they’re interested,” she added. Previous hosts included St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Peace, St. Colman, which hosted about three times, and St. Mary Parish in Bedford.
Father Caroli Shao, AJ, St. Colman pastor, and Father Benjamin Koka, AJ, parochial vicar, welcomed the guests
Sister Rita Mary Harwood, SND, secretary for Parish Life and Development, thanked Fathers Caroli and Benjamin, as well as St. Colman Parish for their hospitality “and for the extremely warm welcome. Thanks also to the choir for the wonderful music and to the Apostles of Jesus, who minister in Africa, here and around the world. We are blessed to have them with us in the diocese to assist in our hospitals, parishes and nursing homes,” she said.
“Thank you to the liturgical dancers, the servers and to all who are here. It wouldn’t be a celebration without you,” Sister said.
She also offered appreciation and thanks to Griffin Campbell, who is retiring at the end of the year.
“Vanessa has worked with me on every African celebration and I want to thank her in a special way,” Sister said.
After Mass, the congregation was invited to the church hall for a lunch featuring many popular African dishes, fruits, nuts and cake for dessert.
“We’ll have music for dancing – and I hope drumming. We’ve cleared space for dancing,” Sister Rita Mary said.
“Our community brings the gifts of faith, family and celebration. Come and celebrate with us,” she added.