Together at Last: monthly Igbo Masses bring joy to Nigerian community
ARLINGTON — In an intimate setting at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Arlington, the Igbo community celebrated Mass in their native language on Jan. 28.
The Igbo Mass, which began back in November, is held at 3 p.m. on the last Saturday of every month at St. Maria Goretti and features a dedicated community and a choir.
The Igbo language is commonly spoken in southeast Nigeria as well as in parts of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Father Willie Onuh, a retired priest living in the diocese, is the principal celebrant of the Mass.
In his homily, during which he descended from the pulpit to walk the aisles of the church and speak directly to the flock, Fr. Onuh mentioned only three phrases in English: “Spoke from the heart,” “conviction,” and “Catholic — the center of life.”
Sir George Ezigbo was “instrumental in the starting of this Mass,” said Father Samuel Maul, pastor of St. Maria Goretti. Sir Ezigbo explained his gratitude for the wonderful homily to the North Texas Catholic.
“It reminded us to have a stronger faith in our family where the father, the mother are staying together and bringing children up in the fear of the Lord,” Sir Ezigbo said.
He explained that one of the greatest benefits of having the Mass in Igbo was that it allowed his elders who do not understand English, and those of many other families, to understand the Word of God.
“When they go to English Mass, they don't hear anything of what is going on in Mass,” Sir Ezigbo said. “But now, you see our old parents who are with us, living with us here, they are so happy and they're enjoying it, and they can hear the priest, the sermons, the liturgy — everything.”
Providing his family with the opportunity to listen to the homily in their native language is incredible, he said. His parents have often told him, “When you're in your last 25 years of your life, Mass is more important to you than food.”
Treasured, too, is the opportunity to share their joy in their language and culture with their children. Now, their children “are able to learn our local language. … They were born here, so they never asked anybody to speak Igbo. So now that they're coming to this Mass, you see them jumping up and singing; oh, they're trying to learn the language of their parents and grandparents. So the [Mass] is God-sent actually,” Sir Ezigbo shared.
He hopes that moving forward, the community may see their plans for a weekly Mass come to fruition. Until then, he shares his gratitude to Bishop Michael Olson “who granted us the opportunity to do this,” and for other Igbo families “to come together and worship our God. … I would love them to be part of the community. We need to be our brother's keeper, coming from 7,000 miles away. We need to come together, help ourselves, help our community, build a strong community, and be accountable for it.”
Sir Ezigbo stated that the impetus for establishing this Mass was because “we had wanted to continue worshiping our God in our language because that's what we were doing even before we came over here.
“It's been about 200 years since our fathers and great-grandfathers brought us hope as Catholics,” he continued. “When we came over to the United States, we were looking for a place where we can celebrate our Mass in our own language.”
The Igbo Mass had a record attendance of 300 in November, with a small dip in December and January as many traveled to Nigeria for the holidays.
The Mass is a “wonderful opportunity,” Sir Ezigbo said, “for us to come together and catch up with the rest of our brothers in the United States.”
Longtime St. Maria Goretti parishioner and usher for the Igbo Mass, Paul Enuke commented on the blessing that this Mass holds for the community.
“As a Catholic person, there is an uplifting feeling that comes from hearing Mass in a different language,” Enuke observed. More beauty, he said, can be found in the blessing that the Igbo people from the surrounding area enjoy as they see their parents and grandparents attend a Mass they understand at least once a month.
“This Mass is a gift,” Enuke said with a bright smile.