Jesus’ African Roots

by Antonina Zielinska,

Father Kyrian Echekwu poses with two members of the African Choir after concelebrating Mass with Bishop DiMarzio in honor of the Flight of the Holy Family. A slide show of photographs can be found online at www.thetablet.org.

To celebrate the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, a largely Nigerian congregation joined Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio Feb. 5 at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, for a bilingual Mass.

During his homily, the bishop stressed the importance of accepting the fact that God allows suffering in the world. He asked the congregation to stay fervent in their faith even as their native land continues to suffer from political distress and violence.

“We pray that there will be true religious freedom,” he said. “The flight of the Holy Family shows us that Jesus went to Africa and that Africa needs God.”

The message seemed to reach many members of the congregation.

“Like Job we should be strong amidst our suffering,” said Loue Okorie, a parishioner of St. Fortunata, East New York. “We are praying for peace in our country and in all the world.”

Though the message of suffering was addressed, the atmosphere was clearly festive.

“It is a celebration of Jesus,” said Okorie. “We rejoice in knowing that God is with us and that Jesus dwells within us.”

“It’s a celebration of life and thanking God for giving us life,” added Ify Okey, also from St. Fortunata parish.

Contributing to the festive mood was the African Choir from St. Fortunata. Its members sang lively songs of praise in the African languages of Igbo, Efik, Zaire and Yoruba. Adding to the universality of the feast they also sang in English and Latin.

Kingsley Uche, music director, said he hopes his ministry will bring Africans together in praise of God.

Bishop DiMarzio praised the enthusiasm of the choir and congregation as “beautiful.”

Deacon Okafor Uzoigwe said the bishop has been welcoming of all migrants in the diocese and thanked him for allowing him to expand this celebration, which has been observed for the past six years at St. Fortunata’s church, into the cathedral where more people can participate.

“We are not treated as strangers but as people” by Bishop DiMarzio and the Diocese of Brooklyn, Deacon Uzoigwe said.

Nigerian native Father Kyrian Echekwu, from Ascension parish, Elmhurst, said the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt is an important feast day in Nigeria because it shows African hospitality.  He said community and hospitality are defining aspects of the Nigerian culture, which is why feast day celebrations are important to the Nigerian people.

“Once they are together they are happy,” he said. “Even in suffering they are happy.”

Chinyere Nnorom, a St. Fortunata parishioner, said this feast day is important to her as a Nigerian because God chose Africa as His adopted land and chose to be part of the African family.

“It shows that the child God is from Africa, so we are the same blood,” she said, adding that she was proud that the bishop of Brooklyn chose to celebrate Jesus as an African.