Faithful pass on culture and language to offspring through bi-monthly French African Mass 

The praise is lively, the worship is joyful, and they dance the gifts up the aisle for the Offertory. This isn’t your regular Sunday Mass.

The animated liturgy is how Lower Mainland African Catholics celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Fatima in Coquitlam.

Many African Catholics who come to Canada can only speak French, said Father Claude Makulu, assistant pastor at Our Lady of Fatima. Father Makulu came from the Democratic Republic of Congo and now celebrates the African Mass every second and last Sunday of the month at the parish.

“The Mass is said in French, but the singing is in different African languages,” said Father Makulu. “This is helpful for the African community to worship the way they do in their own culture.”

Older Catholics from African Francophone countries often find difficulty in navigating the largely English-speaking communities in local parishes, something the French African Mass attempts to rectify.

Some of the people who find the Mass most helpful tend to be “the mothers and fathers who cannot speak any English,” Father Makulu said. The Mass offers them the opportunity “to confess in their language and sing in their own language too.”

Bernard Barhafumwa, one of the organizers for the bi-monthly Mass, said having a French Mass was ideal “because it would allow us as well as our families to participate in the Mass through songs we know and deeply understand.”

Barkafumwa, also from Congo, realized his parish of Our Lady of Mercy, Burnaby, mostly catered to English speakers. After noting a good number of Catholic African Francophones attended English Mass, he and others decided to organize “an African Catholic Community which could allow us to participate fully at Mass, as English is not our first language.

“It allows a good time of introspection after the Gospel since the message is clear in the language we understand the most,” he said. “The African Catholic community reminds me of the good moments I had in my parish back home in Bukavu as I can express my faith and beliefs in the same way as I was taught.”

The celebration also incorporates African culture with traditional Catholic rites more akin to the traditional African style of liturgy. “As Africans, dancing is a major part of our culture to express ourselves and to praise the Lord through various Catholic rites,” said Barkafumwa.

“During the Offertory we bring and offer to God the fruits of our harvest through singing and dancing which for us are a sign of joy and thanks to the Almighty who gives us power and strength each day.”

Personally, Barkafumwa finds the African Catholic community offers a way “to pass our culture along to our children who are the future of the community.” The Mass allows people of the “same culture, spirituality and language” to socialize.

The Mass begins at 2:30 p.m. For more information, call Father Makulu at 604-364-2525