Published March 4, 2004
For the students at Our Lady of Mercy High School, Feb. 9 brought an annual opportunity to witness concrete evidence of the diversity of both their school and the Catholic Church.
The third annual multicultural Mass and luncheon was an event that brought together the many cultures that exist within the school. Students dressed in costumes and outfits native to their background, and the effect rivaled the World Showcase pavilions at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.
Mercy principal John Cobis said that the multicultural day is held to celebrate all heritages.
“February is Black History Month, which is, of course, very important, but we thought rather than celebrate a single ethnicity, we’d celebrate all of our heritages,” he said. “Each year it has become a day that we look forward to.”
The day began with a Mass celebrated by Father Ricardo Bailey, parochial vicar at St. Joseph’s Church in Marietta, and concelebrated by 10 priests of the Southern Metro Deanery, who held a meeting following the Mass.
The readings of the Mass were proclaimed in various languages, as were the prayers of the faithful as teens prayed in their native tongues.
During a spirited homily, Father Bailey infused hip-hop terminology with the truth of the Gospel to reach the high school students on their level.
“This area of the city of Atlanta is probably one of the most diverse in our archdiocese,” he said. “Although we may have different backgrounds, although we may speak different languages and have different food in our homes, we worship the same God.”
He spoke of his own life and faith journey as a teenager growing up in Decatur.
“Although I loved Jesus in my heart, I was afraid to proclaim him in my life,” he said. “At no point in your life should you ever be afraid of who you are and whose you are.”
The students giggled as Father Bailey told them, “never be afraid to get crunk for Jesus.”
“You may think that’s strange hearing a priest say that. You may be thinking ‘he is doing that because he thinks he’s cool,’” he said. “No, I’m doing that because I know I’m cool.”
The students seemed to soak up each word that Father Bailey told them. They cheered when he quoted a popular rap song.
“It’s like Lil John and the East Side Boyz say, you’ve got to proclaim Jesus ‘from the windoooow…’”
“…to the wall!” the students responded.
“You have to use what you’ve got to get what you want. And what you have is Jesus Christ,” Father Bailey said. “You are beautiful and precious in the sight of God. Never be ashamed of the choice you made in Jesus.”
Following the Mass, students then made their way to the cafeteria, which was draped in streamers of every color. Along the wall, flags of construction paper from numerous countries hung, and helium balloons hovered over the tables.
Parents had provided food representing their nationalities, creating a huge spread of ethnic foods. A mariachi band played, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Sophomore Sarah Johnson wore a dirndl, a typical German dress, representing her ancestors. She said the annual festival is always fun.
“We get a long lunch period, and we get to eat food that we’ve never had before,” she said. “You also see how universal the church is, especially hearing everyone speak at the Mass in their own language.”
Wearing a newsboy cap, a white button-down shirt, black jeans and suspenders, sophomore Ben Allen chose to represent the working class of Ireland. He said that seeing the costumes and participating in the festivities gives him a deeper appreciation of his own heritage.
“You get to see everyone else’s culture, and it makes you appreciate how diverse the world really is,” he said.
Cobis said that the event gives students a chance to witness the diversity of the school and that of the Catholic Church as a whole.
“The student body here very much reflects the diversity of the church, and we’re very proud of that,” he said. “This brings them all together.”
Cobis said the school is broken down to about 44 percent Caucasian, 41 percent African-American and the rest represented by Hispanic, Asian and other cultures.
Father Paul Burke, chaplain at Mercy, said that the school’s diversity paints a picture of the many cultures in the archdiocese.
“The students are able to see what ‘catholic’ means—‘catholic’ with a small ‘c.’ But they are able to see what’s in the diocese as well,” he said. “It also picks up some of the diversity in the wider church as well.”
The event has grown with each year, Father Burke said.
“The intent has stayed the same—to celebrate our different cultures within the school,” he said. “But over the years there has been more of an emphasis on the Mass and planning that. The parents have also done a wonderful job with the food and the planning.”