PRINCE ALBERT — On March 8, some 300 people from Prince Albert and Saskatoon gathered at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Prince Albert for a memorable sharing of the Gospel and eucharist in their native language of Swahili. Those present represented Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bishop Albert Thévenot, a member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, initiated the event with Faustin Mutongolo from Saskatoon, formerly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Swahili community from St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon. More than 30 musicians and participants travelled from Saskatoon to help lead the celebration.
The eucharistic celebration began with Fabien Agira of Prince Albert welcoming the assembly. Formerly from Rwanda, Agira, his wife and three children arrived in Prince Albert in the year 2000. He shared how deeply he was moved by his first experience of a Swahili liturgy in Canada.
“This celebration is very important to us, and for those who crossed the ocean and travelled here all the way from eastern and central Africa,” he said.
Swahili serves as one of the official languages of several African countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also one of the official languages of the African Union. The Swahili culture has a Bantu core that has been influenced and modified by foreign countries.
As an introduction, Thévenot explained that Africa is a continent made up of 52 different countries with different languages and cultures. He shared with those gathered that, as a priest, he had dedicated his life to the people of Africa.
Joseph Kiunga, who attended the mass, arrived in Canada from Kenya in 2001. He summarized Thévenot’s homily given in Swahili, encouraging those present to embrace and love each other in spite of their differences, and to bring the Good News of God’s love to the world.
The bishop challenged the congregation: “We need to put away our differences and live united as one, because our faith is one in Christ and the cross.”
Kiunga expressed his deep gratitude and joy. “I am so blessed for being part of the celebration today. God has been so awesome, I am so grateful!”
Music was a moving part of the celebration, with guitars, drums, singing and dancing in African style and attire. Visibly moved, Thévenot and those gathered stepped in time to the joyful African liturgical praise and worship music.
Vital Mwandanga, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, thanked Thévenot and rector, Rev. Matthew Nguyen, Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Welcoming Ministry Committee for hosting the celebration. After enjoying fellowship and refreshments, all left with the desire to repeat the experience.
The bishop expressed satisfaction at having lived African moments.
“This gathering gave all of us a new experience of celebrating liturgy in a different culture. It enriched us and calls us to live this universal faith of the church.”