Cathedral Mass Raises Awareness for Persecuted Christians in Africa


Cardinal Dolan offered Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to raise awareness for persecuted Christians in Africa Sept. 9.

“While we gather in the cathedral of the Archdiocese of New York, our hearts are in and with our beloved Africa as we lift up their anguish and their worry to Jesus on the cross as we enter the renewal of his sacrifice on Calvary,” said Cardinal Dolan, the principal celebrant, in opening remarks.

Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, served as concelebrant. Also on the altar were Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy; Msgr. Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and moderator of the curia; Msgr. Peter Vaccari, president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Bishop David of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Archbishop Joseph, Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; and many priests and deacons.

Music was performed by Ghanaian, East African, Francophone and French African choirs. Kenyan religious sisters led a procession for the Gospel acclamation and presentation of the gifts. Petitions were read in Tigrinya, French, Swahili, Akan and English.

Cardinal Dolan said in his homily he’s heard from religious sisters, priests, bishops and lay people about what Christians in Africa are facing.

“You tell us we are hurting, we feel forgotten, we feel alone,” he said. “We need the world to advocate for us, to come to our defense because believers in Africa are under attack. We need no more endangered species in Africa. We here this evening confess that we can feel useless as we search for ways to speak and reach out to the persecuted Christians in Africa. 

“Our faith, the faith for which nations of Africa suffer, tells us...that we have a duty, a sacred obligation to be in union with you, and that coming together in prayer, in supplication for afflicted believers, is powerful and effective, and that we do this evening enthusiastically. We pray and we pray hard with and for Africa. 

Cardinal Dolan suggested offering a Mass Sept. 9 on the Feast of St. Peter Claver. Father Peter Mushi, A.J., pastor of St. Cecilia’s parish in Harlem, and Brother Tyrone Davis, C.F.C., executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, led an organizing committee for the Mass.

St. Peter Claver was a 17th-century Spanish Jesuit priest and patron saint of slaves, who ministered to the passengers of slave ships entering New World ports. He baptized slaves, taught the faith to them and heard their confessions.

“That we would gather on this feast of St. Peter Claver enhances our own faith in prayer,” Cardinal Dolan said.

After planning began, two nuns were shot and killed in a group of nine sisters heading home to Juba in South Sudan Aug. 16.

“For our African brothers and sisters, this holy sacrifice of the Mass is so essential that they risk a bullet, a machete, a bomb rather than miss it,” said Cardinal Dolan in closing his homily.

“We hear them persecuted for their belief in Africa, exclaim with Jesus from his cross, ‘I thirst.’ They thirst for freedom, respect, safety and peace to express in practice the most noble of all human aspirations, faith.” 

Elizabeth Mensah, a parishioner of St. Luke’s in the Bronx, is originally from Ghana and has been living in the United States for 28 years.

“People are persecuting Christtians simply because they are Christians, and that is not acceptable because God is love and he created all of us equal,” she said. “There is no East or West, South or North, in God. We all have to be together as one and live in peace.”

Sonia Ilboudo, who is originally from West Africa, is a parishioner of St. Joseph of the Holy Family in Harlem and said she felt compelled to attend the Mass to sing and pray.

“What we can do is pray and pray to God to have the government do something. We are praying a lot for that to happen,” she said. “So may God give his strength to our people and our government to deal with them and to stop them.”