The Nigerian Igbo community at St. Fortunata, East New York, celebrated the parish’s annual remembrance of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt last weekend.
The tradition of remembering the dark time when King Herod ordered the slaying of the Holy Innocents in Matthew’s Gospel began at St. Fortunata by Deacon Okafor Uzoigwe in 2006. It is a remembrance of the Holy Family’s flight and a celebration of the journeys undertaken by all those present.
“Herod was about to kill the child Jesus. Egypt took the family in and gave them safety,” explained Father Kieran Udeze, parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, who participated in the two-day event.
A workshop and healing Mass were held on Saturday Feb. 23, followed by Mass and a reception on Sunday, Feb. 24.
“As an African community, we celebrate that there is a need for all people to look out for one another and build bridges, not walls.
“If Egypt was not there, the history of Jesus Christ could be different. We celebrate to remind ourselves that we are immigrants and wherever we are, we need to love everybody no matter their language or no matter their skin.”
The day blended African traditions with Catholic worship and began with a figurine of the Infant Jesus being carried into the church to lead the procession.
Msgr. Joseph Grimaldi, episcopal vicar for Brooklyn, was the main celebrant of the Mass. Special concelebrants included Father Jose Herrera, St. Fortunata’s pastor, and Father Udeze.
The church was filled not just by the parishioners of St. Fortunata, but also members of Nigerian communities from all over New York City and New Jersey.
Many attendees wore traditional Igbo attire in colorful hues. Women donned satin headdresses, called geles, and bright green and gold-colored skirts. Men in the congregation wore pullover shirts, known as isiagus.
The festivities were organized by Father Cosmas Nzeabalu, diocesan coordinator of ministry to Nigerians, and Chibuzo Nweke, vice chairman of the celebration.
The parish’s Igbo choir, accompanied by traditional Nigerian drums and other instruments, sang hymns in English, Latin and African dialects.
“My brothers and sisters, no person leaves their homeland because all is fine. Sin and injustice are too often the cause for one’s flight,” Msgr. Grimaldi said.
“Immigrants are good people out there trying to find a better life like Jesus Mary and Joseph.”
Fleeing from sin and injustice in one’s homeland parallels the “greater flight of our entire lives – our personal and constant flight from sin.
“May Jesus look out for us wherever our journey, wherever our flight takes us. We do not journey alone. Christ walks with us,” he reminded them.
“We gather to thank God for the gift of our Catholic faith and may the church always be a home to all of us.”