Do you remember when masses were offered in Latin, with the celebrant facing the altar? As years passed, the mass became easier to understand and more meaningful to us when it was celebrated in English, with the priest looking at the congregation. And new ways of parishioner participation in the mass continue to enhance its significance.
As a Catholic seminary that trains future missionaries, Divine Word College is known for its multicultural student body. This semester, for example, our students represent at least 12 different nations. It’s challenging for them to come to a new country, learning a new language and customs. They strive to assimilate into our Midwestern culture. They attend English-speaking classes and liturgy. They share recreational and sporting events with no common language bond. And don’t forget their cultural shock in experiencing that first Iowa winter!
|Sr. Graciela Castro, SSpS, reads during a recent Mass celebrated in Spanish
In the midst of all this diversity, Divine Word College has found a way to provide our students with the comforting reassurance of a faith prayed and a mass celebrated in our students’ native languages.
On any given Monday morning at 8:00 a.m., Divine Word College celebrates four “around-the-world” language masses. In the main chapel, an English-speaking mass is offered, open to the community and also attended by many DWC students intent on improving their English. Upstairs, in the second floor chapel, mass is celebrated in Vietnamese by one of several resident SVD Vietnamese priests. Two levels below, on the ground floor, the melody of Spanish songs fills Harold Rigney Hall during the Spanish/Portuguese mass. And just down the corridor past the Hannon/Dod Art Gallery, Sudanese students gather in the St. Josephine Bakhita chapel for a mass which, although celebrated in English, resonates with shared prayers and songs voiced by the students in their native languages of Kiswahili, Arabic, Dinka and Nuer.
Held at the college for over a decade now, these masses honor our cultural diversity. They provide respect and consideration for our differences and offer a way for our students to remain connected to their heritage. Fr. Thu Pham, SVD and acting Rector at DWC, says, “We plan the masses based on our liturgical calendar, and post reminders on the bulletin board each Sunday. They are well-attended by the students.”
DWC freshman Joseph Okello is present at the Sudanese mass each Monday held in St. Josephine Bakhita chapel. He says, “The language masses have really contributed a lot to my life. As a Sudanese, this is a very important place for me, where I get a chance to pray with others in our own language. We normally do this in songs and during contribution of prayers.”
Sr. Graciella Castro, SSpS, comes to Divine Word College from Argentina. She attends the Spanish/Portuguese mass in Rigney Hall each Monday. “One week the mass is offered in Spanish,” she says, “and the next week it is in Portuguese.” Castro enjoys the Spanish songs from Mexico and Argentina, complemented by the music of two student guitarists from Mexico and Columbia. “I like the masses because it is an opportunity for us to express our faith in our own language,” she adds. “It is something that makes us feel closer to each other. It makes us feel like we are more at home.”
Joseph Tuok, a sophomore, also attends the Sudanese language mass. “I like singing in our own mother tongue and offering a prayer in our own language,” he says, “but we also have time to read the Bible in English.” Tuok feels that “because we are scattered in many nationalities in school, this is like a social gathering for Sudanese students.” He adds, “For me, it is very important because it is another way of seeing each other around the table of God. It reminds us how we worship God in our homeland.”
Sr. Carolina Giay, SSpS, is an ESL (English as Second Language) student at DWC. “I am conscious that my focus is to learn English, and that I need to adapt to a new culture and language in all its phases. I know that I have to pray in English, but sometimes, when I listen to prayers in my own language, I feel that God gives me a sweet gift to my heart.” Giay, who is from Argentina, likes the fact that she can understand the Monday mass “100%,” adding that, “I feel more relaxed and can enjoy the mass so much. I can pray louder and I can pray for the people in different situations around the world without worrying about grammar. I experience a strong community bond with the people who attend the mass. We are all united in our hearts and struggles in learning a new language and being born again in the spirit of Christ.”
Meaningful prayer and liturgy, social gatherings, feelings of home, kinship with others – language masses at Divine Word College offer all these things and more to our students who take part in them each Monday morning.
Perhaps Giay sums it up best when she says: “You feel at home with God when you can express yourself with the language of your heart.”