The men, women and children sitting in the pews at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles on the morning of Sept. 19 enjoyed a spiritual and stimulating “visual feast.”
The 11th annual Eucharistic Celebration of Cultures brought together diverse ethnic communities from across the three-county archdiocese in a united show of Catholic universality.
“I really enjoyed being here, seeing all of the different cultures coming together — I always enjoy the visual [and] auditory feast that is the multicultural Mass,” said a smiling Pat Buckley, a member of St. Michael’s Church, Los Angeles, who joyfully represented the Catholic African American community.
For fellow parishioner Lola Loudd, the yearly Mass is a representation of the global Church, which she describes as “a quilt, with the many different pieces coming together” to complete the decorative design of the colorful bed covering.
“It’s also like a wonderful, delicious gumbo, that has all the different textures and flavors that blend together,” Loudd told The Tidings.
Almost 50 different countries and ethnic groups participated in this year’s colorful celebration — nearly 20 more than last year — including Arab American, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Indian, Irish, Mayan, Samoan, Ukrainian, and more.
Representatives from each group entered the cathedral during the vibrant opening procession wearing traditional cultural attire, many adorned with feathers, beading, ribbons, embroidery, or lace, and a virtual rainbow of other linens and trimmings.
During his homily, Archbishop José H. Gomez described it as “an exciting time here in Los Angeles and all across the country, because everybody’s waiting for Pope Francis to come to the United States this week.”
“It is a moment of grace for all of us, and all this expectation [and] excitement that we feel … is a sign of the universal nature of the Catholic Church — and this is exactly what we are here to celebrate today in this beautiful Mass … the beautiful diversity of cultures and peoples and languages that make up the one family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” explained the archbishop.
“This is what the Church is meant to be: one family [and] every Christian has a part to play. … Jesus is calling us to be missionary disciples, to be servants of love,” he added. “Let us keep working to build a world that is more peaceful, more just, and more compassionate ... where we recognize everyone as our brother and sister.”
Diana Vasquez, who is of Mexican and Kikapu native heritage, said she felt drawn to participate because she believes “that we’re all little pieces of a big puzzle” that is the universal Church.
“This was my first experience [and] seeing everyone in their ethnic garb and dress was very moving,” said Vasquez, who is a member of the City of Angels Kateri Circle, a Native American Catholic prayer and evangelization group.
Regarding the canonization of Junípero Serra during the pope’s U.S. visit, Vasquez said that she and her fellow Kateri Circle group members have discussed the issue at length, with many expressing disparate points of view.
Generally, she said, “we acknowledge that a spiritual seed was sewn in the native community” by Serra and other missionaries. Although “we may not agree on how it was done,” Vasquez said she feels “we have to look at it through the context of the times.”
“It is a very difficult subject, and we struggle with it, but we can’t deny our religious upbringing. Through the intercession of St. Kateri, we’re looking to bring more of our [Native American] Catholics back into the Church,” she said.
Near the close of Mass, Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar, who heads the archdiocesan Office of Ethnic Ministry, introduced a group of several dozen individuals slated to travel to the East Coast to witness the pope’s historic visit. The archbishop blessed the pilgrims, including Jersey Vargas and her family.
Jersey first made headlines in 2014 when she traveled to Vatican City as part of a delegation of U.S. children whose immigrant parents were facing deportation.
She had the opportunity to speak with Pope Francis, and asked him to please lobby on behalf of her father (who was in ICE detention) during the pope’s scheduled meeting with President Barack Obama. The family was reunited shortly thereafter.
For her upcoming twice-in-a-lifetime meeting with Pope Francis, Jersey said her message will be essentially the same: seeking the pope’s support to help keep undocumented immigrant families in the U.S. intact through future reform efforts.
“I’m kind of both excited and nervous — excited because I’m going to be there with my family, but nervous because I’m going to meet [the pope] again,” said Jersey.
“I want to give him thanks for his support and [ask] him to keep helping the community of immigrants … because we still haven’t finished the fight.”