Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio joined a largely African Igbo congregation at St. Fortunata Church, East New York, to celebrate the model of an immigrant family: Joseph, Mary and Jesus, in flight to Egypt.
“As immigrants, all of you understand this great mystery of faith,” Bishop DiMarzio said addressing the congregation.
The bishop quoted from “Exsul Familia Nazarethana” authored by Pope Pius XII:
“The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”
Parishioner Augustine Umeozir, M.D., member of the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree color guard, said that as an immigrant he is happy to pay his respect to the Holy Family and honor the time when God Made Flesh visited Africa.
“The fact that when His life was in danger, out of all the places in the world, He chose Africa, that is a big deal for us,” he said.
“Being an immigrant is not easy, but with the help of God we keep moving forward; we keep surviving,” said Father Kyrian Echekwu, parochial vicar at Ascension parish, Elmhurst.
He said the celebration of the feast day by incorporating Igbo and other African traditions is important to the community.
“It brings us a sense of brotherhood as Africans,” he said.
“It helps keep the Igbo culture alive,” said Deacon Okafor Uzoigwe, organizer of the event.
Among the attendees was Ijeoma Ugo, an American-born parishioner of Igbo descent.
“I enjoyed every minute of it, from the readings, to the bishop speaking, to the choir singing,” she said. “It’s a vibrant community.”
She also said she was thankful for the support of the bishop.
“We are learning from him, and he is learning from us about how we conduct our Mass,” she said.
During his homily, Bishop DiMarzio stressed the importance of immigrants instilling the good Christian values they gained from their own culture.
Deacon Uzoigwe pointed out that caring for the young is a responsibility the whole community takes on.
“The elders try to teach that we respect young children and that we treat them as a blessing,” he said.
Igbo parishioners from St. Fortunata are, in majority, immigrants from the southern region of Nigeria.
The Igbo community at St. Fortunata hopes the celebration of the Flight of the Holy Family can spread to other communities and possibly even to their homeland of Nigeria. Over the past eight years, the Brooklyn celebration has grown as more people learned about it. Next year, the organizers hope to invite a bishop from Nigeria to attend the celebration.