The yearly feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta on Sept. 5 is catching up among the faithful in the U.S. Church. In many churches throughout the Brooklyn Diocese and neighboring dioceses, statues of the saint are put up to promote devotion to this ‘saint of the gutters.’
On the weekend before her feast day, Father Francis Sunil Rosario and the Bengali community from Bangladesh celebrated its first Bengali Mass at St. Bartholomew’s Church Sept. 2 and commemorated the day by sharing a message focused on charity and a zeal for the poor.
With help and understanding from Father Rick Beuther, pastor, parishioners from the Elmhurst church helped organize and celebrate the feast day with touches of traditional Bangladeshi sights and sounds: Women and young girls wore their customary colorful sarees and men wore their Kurta and Dhoti or pajama. The choir sang hymns alongside instruments from their native country.
For the Bangladeshi-born priest, Mother Teresa’s words, actions and faith continue to inspire his vocation as a priest, since the days when he first interacted with the saint – which began in 1959 when she opened her first convent in India. He said the sisters from the Missionaries of Charity searched for the poor day in and day out within the neighborhood’s small colonies where lepers lived. The lepers were often ostracized due to their rejection in the mainstream society.
“The seed of charity was sown in Bengal by Mother Teresa back in the late 1940s and gradually through subsequent decades in our Independent nation that gained freedom in 1947,” said Father Rosario. “She became a beacon of hope to the suffering humanity throughout the world with complete trust in God and in God’s providence.”
Gathering the Queens Faithful
The Bengali-speaking immigrant community is settled in various pockets throughout Queens and spread across various parishes in the diocese. Gathering them together for Mass was an initiative Father Rosario finds critical for his ministry and culture and it came naturally for him during his few years of ministry as a diocesan priest.
“I found St. Bartholomew is quite central for this community because there are over 35,000 Bengalis belonging to other faiths, but the Catholic community from Bangladesh is the minority,” said Father Rosario. “To gather them together is not easy. When I came to this parish, I found it’s a parish of the communion of communities. That is the whole idea of Father Rick [Beuther] and he’s open to all the communities.”
For St. Bartholomew parishioner Magdalene Gomes, her assimilation to the English Mass came organically ever since she came to the States as a young girl. Even as a parish lector, she would read the Word of God in English. So when the opportunity came for a Mass to be held in her native language, her and her husband gladly helped to make the first Mass a success, including contributing dessert for the fellowship after Mass.
“Attending Bengali Mass brings back memories from very long ago,” said Gomes. “It feels like another way of engaging.”
Confessions were also heard before the Mass. Father Rosario said it was a fitting way to celebrate the feast of Mother Teresa of Calcutta by asking God for the purification of the Church in the midst of many crises. During the Mass in the chapel, the young and elder guests looked comfortable and at ease reciting the hymns and rites in their own language. ‘Seva Kor Dukhijone’ was sung during communion and it is a hymn in Bengali that was dedicated to the saint. It means ‘those who serve the poorest of the poor and hear the cry of the poor, they serve Christ.’
At the altar, a miniature statue of St. Mother Teresa was placed atop a sign with her joyful face that read ‘Come be my Light’ that shared the message of God’s love and invitation that asks His Church to be His love and compassion to the poor.
Sweety Costa, a parishioner at Corpus Christi, Woodside, who was one of the lectors for the Mass, understands the type of peace and joy Mother Teresa kept in her own heart. That’s because after meeting the saint as a young school girl back in Bangladesh, that’s exactly what she felt in her heart – peace and joy. Celebrating the Mass with her community meant a lot to her, especially on Mother Teresa’s feast day.
“I appreciate it because we never get the chance to join these Bengali Masses,” said Costa. “We are very grateful because of Mother Teresa. I had the chance to go to Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta and I feel in my heart that she did a lot of things for people,” said Costa. “Now she’s a saint and I especially thank God.”
After Mass, the faithful were able to take prayer cards after venerating the saint’s small statue. In the basement hall, native foods were shared among friends and families. The Bengali community aims to continue the Bengali Mass every first Sunday for years to come.
Contributing to this story was Father Francis Sunil Rosario.
Photos from the Feast Day Mass celebrated in Calcutta, Sept. 5.