By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2014
CARTERSVILLE—Kenyan Catholics have made St. Francis of Assisi Church, in Cartersville, their home.
As many as 60 people from the East African country gather monthly to celebrate Mass and tuck into native food.
The gathering started in 2012 and has grown steadily to attract more people, said organizers.
There are an estimated 4,191 Kenyans living in the metro Atlanta area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Catholics make up about 23 percent of the country’s population.
Victoria Mburu received the 2014 Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award for her efforts to bring the community together.
The immigrants face a challenge. Kenyan Catholics will often join Protestant churches drawn by the chance to worship with and befriend other Kenyans, Mburu said, and then eventually leave the church. Inspired by the Catholics Come Home campaign, she wanted to make the effort to attract Kenyan Catholics to return to their faith.
Father Francis Kamau, a native of Kenya, travels from Shreveport, La., to celebrate the monthly Mass on the third Sunday of the month.
Msgr. Dan Stack, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, said the Kenyan community has been a “resounding blessing for this parish.”
People come from far away to have a chance to celebrate in their own language, he said.
Msgr. Stack said he’s noticed a few differences with this community.
“The first thing you will notice is that they sit together. Instead of scattering all over the church they are in a bunch together. Secondly, there are no bumps on a log. They sing, they dance, they participate fully, ” he said in an email.
And the enthusiasm is infectious, when non-Kenyans attend for the first time and Mass lasts more than an hour and a half, but no one has noticed, he said. “They are caught up in the mystery.”
Mburu said the community doesn’t practice “fast food liturgy.”
“We like to settle in for a long, leisurely meal,” she said.
Everyone afterward is invited to a fellowship of Kenyan food and culture.