Over 500 people from 13 different nationalities participated to the festival of nations that took place on Sunday the 5th of May, at Athlone Civic Centre hall, an initiative that has as its protagonists the Catholic immigrant communities of the Archdiocese of Cape Town. This year the celebration brought together people from the vast array of backgrounds to celebrate their faith in the unity of diversity under the theme “All the nations shall be gathered together, in the name of the Lord”.
The event was kicked off with the celebration of the mass at 1 pm, in a packed Civic centre hall. The mass was presided by Archbishop Stephen Brislin and concelebrated by more than 10 priests, among them the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cape Town Fr Peter-John Pearson.
The Mass was animated by 8 communities from different nationalities, the songs were sung in their own local languages, which involved musical instruments, such as organ, drums, shakers and tradition liturgical dancing to the Lord.
The Malawian community helped people to enter in Liturgy of Word with the procession of the word, done it in the Malawian style. This procession was accompanied by traditional dancing, which included the shuffling of feet and twisting of the waist. The dancers carried on top of their head artefacts; four clay pots, in two of them, there were fire and incense, and in the other two were flowers. In one covered basket there was Lectionary. The dance movements were performed more gently and within the acceptable limits of the Catholic Church. All this procession was intended to convey praises and respect to the Word of God.
The liturgy of the word culminated with the beautiful and touching homily delivered by Archbishop Stephen Brislin. He delivered the message that was crystal clear to the faithful who gathered that day. He explained that the people who are moved from their countries for different reasons, Very often, they feel injustice and exploitation in the hosting countries. Even though they are contributing so much to the development of those countries, the countries don’t give them due respect or treat them well. He quoted the statement of Archbishop Buti Tihagale about those South Africans who xenophobically attack the migrants and refugees, saying “Those South Africans who indulge in xenophobia have simply not healed from the wounds of the apartheid era. They are still hurting and are now taking out their anger on their fellow Africans”. On behalf of those South Africans who mistreat and attack the migrants and refugees, he asked forgiveness. Furthermore, Archbishop Brislin highlighted the two sides of migrant’s hospitality; on one hand, everyone who stays in this country should feel at home, he said “You, my dear brothers and sisters, you are not guests here in South Africa, you are at home, that’s why in our welcoming speech, we didn’t say welcome ‘guests’”. On the other hand, to show gratitude and appreciation for hospitality being given by this country, everyone should be law-abiding migrants, he said: “I urge you brothers and sisters to be responsible in your communities where you live, don’t get involved in bad acts like drugs and human trafficking”. The Archbishop concluded by inviting everyone to be active in their local parishes; chaplaincies are there to ease and facilitate integration.
The offertory was animated by the Zimbabwean community with three awesome hymns in Shona and Ndebele. These hymns were accompanied by the two single-headed drums and shakers, as well as traditional dance and mime. The incorporation of dance and mime into liturgical service is an expression of joy, on one hand, and it conforms to the African cultural way of expressing praise and respect for a supernatural being, in this case, God.
The Nigerian community animated the communion with two songs accompanied by drums and dance steps. It was impressive how the songs were sung not in choral music with Western-style harmony, but instead rely on indigenous ways of harmonising their music.
The Indian community helped people to enter in post-communion reflection with the beautiful hymn. The song had their local tune and was performed with organ accompaniment.
The Francophone community sung Kyrie, Glory and Holy, they sung all songs in the common language “French”, due to the different countries of origin of the choir members. Despite that, harmonies which were included based on traditional principles. This means that instead of following the Western style four-part harmony, the same melodic line is sung in parallel thirds higher and lower. This style of harmonisation stimulated the worshippers to dance.
This mixture of different languages, culture, songs and traditions, made the Eucharist celebration to be in line with the goal of chaplaincies of fostering integration and the sense of togetherness.
After Mass, all worshippers were treated to lunch cooked in various ethnic cuisines by the different countries. We believe that the fraternal encounter between different cultures passes also through the tasting of different traditional dishes. The mealtime gave the worshippers an opportunity to enjoy diversity together as the community of faith and an opportunity to get to know each other through chatting and develop the sense of unity, appreciation and exchange attitudes.
This festival continues its legacy of being the largest Catholic multicultural event in the Archdiocese of Cape Town. It truly created a unique and memorable experience among those who were present.