5/17/2013 10:17:00 AM Oregon Catholics explore building a bridge of faith with Africa
Hotchkiss family photo
Manny Hotchkiss and Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss of St. Pius X Parish visit with former Maryknoll Lay Missioners from Tanzania, Roger and Kitty Schiltz of Lacey, Wash., and their friend Julie Wagner.
SEATTLE —“We are all connected!”
A smiling Father Stephen Okumu, pastor of St. Bridget Parish here, greeted those at a conference on forming relationships with parishes in Africa. The free conference, held at St. Bridget in April, welcomed Catholics from all over the Northwest.
J.L. Drouhard, director of the Missions Office of the Seattle Archdiocese, says one in six parishes in western Washington have sister parish relationships.
Members of St. Pius X Parish in Portland attended the conference. St. Pius has a long history of connecting with other churches. It partnered for several years with a Northeast Portland parish, then a foreign mission program and then a Mississippi parish that had suffered from Hurricane Katrina.
Members of St. Pius went to Tanzania in 2012 and learned about a sister parish relationship between Our Lady of Victory parish in Seaside and Tanzanian village. Father Peter Siamoo, a Tanzanian and priest in residence at St. Pius X, will lead a group of about 10 parishioners to Tanzania in July 2013.
The conference featured a special African Mass with a brightly dressed Swahili choir from Holy Spirit Parish in Kent. There was singing and dancing. In the homily, Father Okumu, originally from Kenya, introduced the concept of ubuntu: “I am who I am because of other people. I cannot be comfortable if someone else is suffering.” This, as well the Catholic social teaching themes of solidarity and option for the poor often fuels an outreach to Africa.
St. Bridget Parish here began a relationship with Malawi years ago. The Seattle church sells Malawian embroidered goods, provides tuition assistance, gives support for AIDS patients, and helped build a school and teachers' houses.
Jesuit Father Peter Henriot, a Northwest native who spent many years in Zambia and Malawi, gave the keynote address. He discussed recent Jesuit efforts to build a co-ed high school for low-income youths in Malawi.
The Catholic population in Africa has grown from 2 million in 1900 to 165 million in 2012. About 43 percent of all Catholic baptisms in the world each year are African. The priest said that the U.S. church can learn from the African church's “great sensitivity to the poor” but also sees challenges, for example, regarding the role of women, and priestly ministry and celibacy.
Many parishes and groups had exhibits of their African connections, including Catholic Relief Services and Maryknoll Mission Education.
In the 2001 document "A Call to Solidarity with Africa," the U.S. bishops said, "We encourage the Catholic community of the U.S. to contribute its diverse talents and gifts to the continent's causes of justice, peace, and integral development.”
The pastor of one U.S. sister parish called it a "fallacy" to think that sister parish contributions diminish parish giving.
"It's like it comes from a different place," he said. "People get excited by a particular project and want to be part of it.”
Many parishes emphasize educational assistance by providing scholarships or school fees and supplies for elementary or high school students. Sacred Heart Parish in Medford has helped pay for clean water and other projects in Tanzania. Young Catholics in the U.S. tend to get involved in the projects.