The African Mass held October 30 at St. Peter’s Church was the first of what parish priest Reverend John Baptist Okai (Father JB as he is known) will become a regular monthly event. The congregation was mostly Caucasian, most there out of curiosity, but there were several African families in attendance as well. The readers and presenters were African as was most of the choir. Okai who was born in Ghana said for the first such mass he was very pleased at the turnout and the participation of the congregation. “Yes, it was very good. I was very happy.”
Some parishioners expected drums and dancing which are sometimes used in Africa but that didn’t happen this time. What did happen however was that Okai, in a very animated homily, engaged the congregation in what he called a call back. “I ask the people to respond.” He went to the altar during his homily and lifted the name of Jesus in huge letters and asked the congregation to shout them out as each letter was lifted, which they did. “I can’t hear you,” he said several times after holding up each letter and the congregation responded more loudly each time. When the full name was held up, he shouted three times, “I can’t hear you,” and the congregation response “JESUS” might have been heard across the street.
Another parishioner explained that Okai’s homilies normally are animated, “he uses body language and gestures as well,” to get his message across, but the congregation response this time was much more than usual.
Okai said the suggestion for an African mass actually came from his congregation after one of the regular masses in which he made “go Jesus go,” placards for one his homilies and had the congregation responding similarly to Gainer the Gopher’s entreaties at a Roughrider football game.
The special mass was held at 11:15, although it didn’t get started until about 11:30. “I had to reset everything following our regular 10:00 mass and it took longer than I expected.” The original was to be 3 p.m. but he said the committee thought that too late in the day. Some of the other African priests would have come but Sunday morning they had responsibilities in their own parishes. Okai said a new time will be selected and he hopes the African mass will be held on the last Sunday of every month.
The Regina Archdiocese has a history of ethnic masses. Vietnamese language masses began in 1980 to serve the growing Vietnamese community but at that time a priest was brought in from Calgary or Winnipeg for Easter and Christmas. The archdiocese now has several Vietnamese priests and masses are held at 5 p.m. every second and fourth Sunday at Holy Trinity. Each mass attracts about 100 people.