By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published January 8, 2009 | En Español
After four years, I think that I have identified one of the more important characteristics of ecclesial life in the Archdiocese of Atlanta—we are a community that welcomes diverse cultural traditions, usually with only minor difficulty! Atlanta has become a mecca for variety, bringing cultural religious traditions from around the world into easy contact with the gentle warmth of the South.
The other week I had a firsthand experience of this dynamic. I was invited to celebrate Mass for the Eritrean Catholic community here in Atlanta at Corpus Christi Parish in Stone Mountain. As I arrived, one of the Hispanic Masses was just concluding, and as a consequence, people were mingling in the vestibule as these two cultures exchanged seats in the church. Neither seemed out of place as the Eritreans in festive garb traded places with the young Hispanic altar servers. The church welcomed both groups, and both communities were aware of comfortably belonging to a common church home.
The Solemn Feast of Epiphany that we observed this past weekend has long been identified with the three kings who represent the human race in its diversity. Each king brings a symbolic gift to the newborn Savior—above all, each race offers itself for the gift of salvation that the Infant provides for all humanity. Tradition says that the relics of these three kings are now maintained in the Cathedral of Cologne.
Artistic depictions of these three usually have them representing the racial diversity of humanity. In truth, we know very little of these three biblical figures and even less as to how their relics might have ended up in Cologne. Yet the heart of Faith tells us that they stand in for all of us in our diversity coming to the Infant who is the Savior of the world.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has developed as a community that welcomes diversity—not always without some problems but with a sincere desire to include all people into one Church along with the distinctiveness of their heritages.
Epiphany is the celebration that proclaims to all of the Church that salvation is offered to every nation in Christ and that we all belong near the Infant Child who has come for our redemption.
Each king in Christian art comes to the stable dressed in native garb and with facial distinctions that remind all of us that we belong to the Mystery of Christmas and God’s plan of salvation.
The Eritrean Catholic community follows the Ge’ez Rite, one of the ancient African Catholic ritual traditions that is to be found mostly in Ethiopia and is closely related to the Coptic Rite. They brought their drums and music and Ge’ez language to the Eucharist so that the Archbishop of Atlanta could hear them praise God in an ancient language that spoke of their ancestral roots. They came in festive attire to celebrate the Eucharist that anchors all of us in the one Faith of the Church. While there may not be many of them, they are as deeply Catholic as are all of the other members of the Eastern Rite Catholic families. Their presence, attire, music and traditions remind us once again of the three kings who found the Christ Child and found their own place within the one Church that this Child established and continues to sanctify.