Kenyan Catholics celebrate faith, culture at national convention in Tacoma

  • Written by Morningstar Stevenson
  • Published in Local
Members of the Swahili Mass choir from Holy Spirit Parish in Kent sing during an August 10 Mass at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma. The Mass was part of the 8th annual convention of the Kenya Catholic Community in America. Photo: Anna Irungu Members of the Swahili Mass choir from Holy Spirit Parish in Kent sing during an August 10 Mass at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma. The Mass was part of the 8th annual convention of the Kenya Catholic Community in America. Photo: Anna Irungu

TACOMAAn estimated 600 Kenyan Catholics from across the United States gathered at Bellarmine Preparatory School August 8-11 to celebrate their faith and culture.

“We want people to experience an African Mass and our cultural heritage,” said Anna Irungu, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Kent and one of the event’s local organizers. “We want to move people from going to Mass to participating in worship.”

The four-day event, with the theme “Nurturing my Catholic Faith in America,” was the 8th annual convention of the Kenya Catholic Community in America. The organization aims to strengthen faith and families by nurturing spiritual well-being and coordinating activities that help Kenyan Catholics “live their faith in solidarity with their brothers and sisters of all backgrounds,” according to its website.

Archbishop Philip A. Anyolo of Kisumu, Kenya, was the featured speaker at a welcome dinner on August 8. The next day, participants convened at Bellarmine for a day of reflection, with sessions for children, young adults and adults on topics ranging from using technology responsibly to preserving marriage and parenting in the diaspora. Archbishop Anyolo celebrated two weekend Masses in Swahili, one at Bellarmine and the other at Holy Spirit Parish. At the Saturday Mass, Kenyans from nine different states sang, danced and served as lectors.

“When we go to Mass, you can never be in a hurry,” said Eva Kariuki, a parishioner at Holy Spirit, which has a weekly Mass in Swahili. “We dance and really celebrate Mass,” she said.

Gatherings like the KCCA convention provide an opportunity to “nurture the spiritual well-being of the entire archdiocese,” said Deacon Carl Chilo, director of multicultural communities for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“We can experience another culture’s spirituality and worship style. And we witness how they reverence and love God,” said Deacon Chilo, who spoke to participants about becoming a deacon.

Kenya Catholic ConventionArchbishop Philip A. Anyolo of Kisumu, Kenya, dances with participants during the 8th annual convention of the Kenya Catholic Community in America, held Aug. 8-11 in Tacoma. Photo: Anna Irungu

The value of community and time

On August 11, participants gathered at Holy Spirit Parish to celebrate a farewell Mass with the parish’s Swahili community.

Although Father Raymond Cleaveland, Holy Spirit’s priest administrator, has taught himself some Swahili, he said he is grateful for the regular presence of two Swahili-speaking archdiocesan priests at the parish’s weekly Swahili Mass: Father Crispin Okoth from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Seattle and Father Stephen Okumu from St. Thomas More in Lynnwood.

“The important thing that the Kenyan community teaches us is the value of community and time,” Father Cleaveland said. “Americans are worried about every second. If the announcements go long,” he said, “some people are already out in the parking lot.”

In contrast, the Kenyan community thinks nothing of spending the entire afternoon at the parish, Father Cleaveland said.

“Mass is a little longer,” Irungu said, “but you don’t realize two hours have passed because it’s so vibrant and beautiful.”

Joseph Kariuki (no relation to Eva), a Holy Spirit parishioner who helped bring the KCCA conference to Tacoma, reflected on the benefits the organization brings to Kenyan Catholics in the U.S.

“When we all come together, it’s a way to move forward as parents to help our children strengthen their faith as we have done for ourselves,” Kariuki said. “Together, we can spread the word of God.”

Watch a video of the Kenya Catholic Community in America choir at the August 10 Swahili Mass at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma.

Kenya Catholic ConventionKenyan Catholics perform a traditional dance to welcome Archbishop Philip A. Anyolo of Kisumu, Kenya, who celebrated Mass as part of a national gathering of Kenyan Catholics held in Tacoma August 8-11. Photo: Anna Irungu

Strength in small groups

Besides hosting the annual convention, the Kenya Catholic Community in America supports the creation of small Catholic communities known in Swahili as “Jumuiya Ndogo Ndogo.”

These small groups “give us a rich foundation to help us grow spiritually and help people in their time of need,” said Eva Kariuki, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Kent. They also help community members keep an eye on each other’s psychological needs. “It’s like a counseling session sometimes,” she said.

In addition the groups, which meet weekly, are also a place to teach children about their faith as well as where their families come from, said Anna Irungu, another Holy Spirit parishioner. “We pray the rosary together. We share food. We actively bring our culture to our children.”

That culture “is what helps sustain our Catholicism,” Irungu said. “In our culture it’s not about ‘me.’ We’re about the well-being of the community.”