All of us as one: African Catholics in North America celebrate unity and inspire outreach at African National Eucharistic Congress
FORT WORTH- For several members of the diocesan delegation who attended the African National Eucharistic Congress in Washington, DC, the gathering helped them focus on the reality of Christ in their midst and called them to reach out to fellow Africans and to their broader communities.
Monsignor Francis Boakye Tawiah, parochial vicar at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Flower Mound, said he was reminded to focus on the Lord’s presence, both in the Eucharist and in daily life.
“We are to promote the sense that the Lord is with us in whatever we do,” Msgr. Tawiah said. “It’s not just about the Eucharist, but a practice to share with people you meet every day.”
The African National Eucharistic Congress (ANEC), held at the Catholic University of America on July 21-23, brought together hundreds of Catholics from Africa now living in North America and a number of priests and sisters from both the U.S. and African nations. The Diocese of Fort Worth sent a delegation of 13, including three priests and 10 laypeople.
Established in 2006, ANEC takes place every five years.
Emma Uwaniyigena, a parishioner at Our Mother of Mercy in Fort Worth, appreciated the opportunity to meet Africans from many different countries and backgrounds who speak different languages but have the “same hope” in Christ.
“We also saw the impact of the African community in growing the priesthood,” she said. “It was the first time for me to see more than 10 priests from Africa in the U.S. There were more than 100 priests there. It was very exciting and promising.”
Emmanuel Ogidan, a parishioner at Holy Family in Fort Worth, said he sensed a calling to revival and “bringing hope to the hopeless.”
Ogidan said the worship in Adoration and Mass was both solemn and joyful — a solemn opportunity to seek healing and restoration and a joyful celebration with drums.
Nana Aafiia, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Arlington and a student at the University of Texas at Austin, said she was inspired to share unity in Christ with both her Ghanaian community at St. Joseph and with friends at the UT Catholic Center.
“I realized the two didn’t need to be separated,” Aafiia said. “They showed us how we may all be one and how we get the most unity.”
Amadeus Mlay and his wife Stella Meela Mlay from St. Brendan Parish in Stephenville said the highlight of the congress was being able to celebrate the Eucharist with so many cardinals, bishops, archbishops, priests, sisters, deacons, and many Africans from different countries speaking different languages, yet still understanding each other in the Mass and Adoration.
“We celebrated Mass with our own languages and cultures,” Stella said. “This was only possible through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist — that ‘We may all be one as He and the Father are one.’”
Several of the Fort Worth delegation said the event reminded them of the beauty and vibrant faith in African Catholic Churches. The Mass at ANEC lasted a few hours and included drums and African hymns.
Msgr. Tawiah, originally from Ghana, said most African Catholics experience worship culture shock when they first attend Mass in the United States. He was surprised to find that Americans and Europeans tend to keep their Mass strictly at one hour, and the style of worship is usually subdued and classical.
African churches have a different way to worship the same Christ.
“We sing, we dance and play our drums,” he said. “It’s not about an hour’s Mass. It’s about being there until it’s done.”
Ogidan found the worship brought back a lot of good memories. Back in Nigeria, Mass often lasted two to three hours. “It’s led by the Spirit, and you can’t be in a hurry,” he said.
He wants to build understanding with believers from across different cultures.
“We’re worshipping the same God, and we stand to gain more for advancing His Kingdom when we respect each other and deal with each other’s differences,” Ogidan said.
Aafiia said the experience renewed her gratitude for the Ghanaian community at St. Joseph where she can worship in the African cultural tradition.
“Going back to school, I’m able to educate people around me about different ways to worship,” she said. “There are many different ways that the Lord calls us to be close to Him, and that’s okay.”
Msgr. Tawiah is grateful for the Congress calling him to identify African Catholics in North Texas and encourage them to return to the Church.
He knew of several African Christians who left the Church in America to join a Pentecostal church. They didn’t feel like they belonged in the more classical Western Catholic style of worship.
Catholics can call them back by offering community and deep meaning, he said.
Uwaniyigena, originally from Rwanda, said she wants to “try to inspire our youth to keep our Catholic identity. She said that offering activities for young people in addition to Mass would help build community.
Ogidan said that when he came to the United States from Nigeria in 2001, he felt welcomed by St. Matthew Parish in Arlington. Parishioners went out of their way to help his family get to church.
Ogidan became a lector and made many friends, including a white couple who became godparents to his son. His older brother, who arrived in America in the 1980s, didn’t feel welcomed by his local Catholic church, so he left and joined an African Protestant church.
At ANEC, Ogidan was inspired to connect with other Africans in his home parish and encourage African Catholics who left the Church. He also wants to help Africans who are new to North Texas feel welcome.
“It boosted my confidence that I’m not a lone African Catholic. I’m on the right path,” he said. “It boosted my confidence that we can achieve so much, and there are actually a huge number of African Catholics who are still living the faith.”