By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2012
Despite growing up on different continents, one in West Africa and the other on a Caribbean island, Martine Lord and Annie Dorcely found a way to worship together.
A common language: French.
“Even if I go to an English Mass, I say my prayers in French,” said Lord, 31, a Delta Airlines worker.
“It’s my native language. I feel very comfortable expressing myself in worshipping,” said Dorcely, a native of Haiti. She works in an Atlanta hospital.
The Francophone track attracted scores of people to Grand Hall B at the Georgia International Convention Center on Friday, June 8, on the first night of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress. It was one of many programs offered to the diverse Catholic archdiocesan community at the annual event, programs that reflect the range of cultures and also build unity.
“The best way to worship God is to worship with your culture, with what you are,” said Ernest Ncho, a member of St. Patrick Church, Norcross, and a leader in the community. The 30-year-old native of Ivory Coast is studying to work in the computer industry.
Twice a month, French-speaking Catholics from across Atlanta gather to worship together, he said.
“We exist. We are part of the archdiocese. We are involved in our parishes,” he said.
As the worship began, Haitians and French-speaking Africans used their full bodies. Your legs get you out of the seat and move to the beat of the drums. Your arms wave, sometimes with a handkerchief. Others just sway, their hands, arms raised. Your mouth opens to sing aloud with the band and its drums and guitar.
Lord, who grew up in Ivory Coast, said she was surprised to find this group when she moved to Georgia from Florida. And it has renewed her Catholic faith, she said, instead of her attending a Protestant church with an energetic worship service. It’s her third Eucharistic Congress.
“You can feel God’s presence. The church is all together. There is no culture barrier,” said Lord, who attends Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville.
For Dorcely, the Eucharistic Congress is like a shot in the arm for her faith.
“It’s like a serum for me. It’s an IV for the whole year,” said the 56-year-old who worships at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur.
She said she enjoys the speakers and also expects to spend some $200 on books and other religious resources from the vendors.
Although small in number, French-speaking Catholics still have a duty to be missionaries in their work, in their families and in their communities, according to the speaker, Togo native Father Daniel Gbadji.
“We have to accomplish our mission of evangelization wherever we are by announcing the Good News and testifying also about our Christian identity, in order to participate by building the church,” he said in an email before his talk.
Father Gbadji, 39, was ordained in 1999 for the new Diocese of Kpalimé after study at John Paul II Major Seminary in Togo, West Africa. A pastor and diocesan director of religious education, he has also guided charismatic prayer groups and regularly celebrates healing Masses.
He said his main point to the community would be to stress unity.
The Eucharist is a “sacrament of unity and mercy,” he said. And it follows Jesus’ prayer as told in the Gospel of John that all his followers should be as one, he said.
And for the French-speaking community, it means the church is everybody’s home, he said.
“There is no stranger in the church. We are in the United States as Africans who are authentically Christians and Christians who are authentically African,” he said.
The missionary work by Catholics in French-speaking Africa “has had a profound impact on our faith lives,” he said.
Now, the community in Georgia needs to “collaborate in the work of the Gospel, each according to his opportunity, ability, gifts, charism and ministry, so that working together, we might devote our capabilities and powers to extend the mission entrusted to our pastoral care by sowing the Good News,” he said.
The community hopes to establish a chaplaincy for French-speaking Catholics. Father Henry Atem, a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese who is a native of Cameroon, Africa, said the community is working with the archdiocese to formally start an outreach to care for their pastoral and spiritual needs.