Friends from Rwanda find a home
26th March 2014 · 0 Comments
By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Using Kigali, Rwanda as a starting point, one has to traverse 8,408 miles as the crow flies to reach Fort Worth, Texas. Until two weeks ago, I was unaware that some evacuees from Rwanda are nestled here within the confines of Fort Worth. A phone call from Attorney Emma Uwaniyigena changed all that in a matter of minutes.
A very articulate, persuasive spokesperson, Emma, as she wants to be called, paid me a visit and laid out the story of Rwandans in Fort Worth. Introducing herself, she said wryly, “You don’t have to introduce yourself, because I already know you, for I have seen you at school programs. I have two little girls in your school: Laura Teta, who is in second grade, and Lauren Saro, who is in Pre-K. My husband’s name is Pie (Pius).
“There are some other Rwandan families,” she began, “but we are ten Catholic families scattered in parishes around the diocese. We are looking for a home base where we can gather twice monthly for a Mass in our own language and a meal and gathering. Together with our children, we number a bit over fifty people.”
I told her that I was disposed to welcome her and her fellow Rwandans into our church here at Our Mother Of Mercy as bi-weekly guests, but that I should check with our Pastoral Council to make sure that our church members are at peace with it.
Breaking out into a broad smile, Emma added, “If it is possible, we would like to meet in your church on the first and third Sunday of each month. It would be best if we could have a Mass celebrated in one of our African languages. However, since we do speak French well, that is a second choice if no African priest is available.
After some back-and-forth both through email and telephone with Tom Byrd, our Pastoral Council President, and some members who responded, it was decided that we would welcome wholeheartedly the ten families of Rwanda for bi-weekly visits.
As Sunday, March 2 neared, the weather was ominous and worsened through the morning. We had seen this movie before, as the nasty 2013-14 winter of discontent blew in again on the coattails of the north wind. Not especially severe this time, the air was nevertheless cold and minimally icy, causing the closure of Highway 287.
Assessing the freezing of the church back door railings and steps, I called Emma twice, encouraging her to consult with her group about having the Mass on the following Sunday. But, in spite of all my misgivings, they were more than eager to come and celebrate the Mass followed by their Agape gathering in the school cafeteria.
When we finally got on the same page and same line, the Rwandans began to filter into the church about 4:00 o’clock, swelling their number to 55 over the next 25 minutes. They were a happy, expectant lot, anticipating a joyous celebration of the Mass.
Prepared to do the Mass in French, we decided at the last minute to do it in English, since I had no French lectionary. However, we could have just as well done it in French, since they decided to do their part of the readings in their native tongue. I wound up doing the Gospel reading and homily in English, which they understood anyway.
With a fascinating progression, my part in the Mass turned out to be that of a quarterback barking out details of the proceedings and directing the Rwandan team to do what they did best. And did they ever deliver! There was no problem reciting the Lord Have Mercy, Glory To God, responsory and alleluia, because, led by music director Martin Didier, they sang those parts of the Mass in their native language, Kinyarwanda.
After lectors had done the first and second readings – with the responsorial psalm sung between – I read the Gospel in English, then delivered the homily in English. They had little or no problem with the English, readily responding on occasion.
When I inquired about the Nicene Creed, the music director stood up and led them in singing the entire Creed, after which they led the Prayer of the Faithful as well, praying and singing fervently in Kinyarwanda, their main native tongue.
Following a strong recessional hymn, we all repaired to the OMM School cafeteria for an Agape gathering where, punctuated by the sight and aroma of a handful of dishes, the atmosphere was jovial and full of lively chatter and laughter. As a vegan, I enjoyed a good helping of salad and some baked seasoned slices of Irish potatoes.
A few people addressed the happy crowd, thanking God that, after looking for a host church since last October, they were finally welcomed by Our Mother Of Mercy. At their bidding, I addressed them briefly, assuring them that we were blessed to have them in our midst. They concluded by singing Mary’s Magnificat, then filed out, still savoring the blessing and joy of the evening, and anticipating the next Rwandan Mass Agape.
This article originally published in the March 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.