The 5th anniversary of the African Catholic Chaplaincy in Finland
St Mary’s church in Helsinki was filled to the brims when the African Chaplaincy celebrated its 5th anniversary on June 5th. Celebrant was emeritus bishop Teemu Sippo S.C.I. who also five years ago established the chaplaincy under the operational and religious leadership of the Cameroon born priest father Leonard Wobilla Shwei. He is at present finalising his doctorate in theology in Rome. The decision that bishop Teemu made is in accordance with the policy that each culture and ethnic group is encouraged to practice its own religious traditions. This has, in the Diocese of Helsinki, been done by the Tagalog, Vietnamese, Ukrainians, Burmese minorities and others.
Father Leonard, head of the chaplaincy had invited several of his colleagues from Rome to the Mass and the festivities afterwords in the English School. We were some 450 who participated in these festivities which included African music, processions when the Bible and the procession when the bread and wine were brought to the altar and received by bishop Teemu. The choir is incredible and made fantastic music. They sang continuously through the two-hour mass. Truly a feast and a Mass to remember.
After the festive Mass everybody went to the English school where the African women from different tribes had prepared an enormous lunch for 450 persons. Nobody went home hungry. During the lunch different ethnic groups, children and professionals sang a range of African songs and presented traditional dances. Speeches were held and the music continued all day until 6 pm when the festivities ended. I found it admirable how friendly and cooperative everybody was in arranging everything, not the least in clearing up the big hall later in the evening. Truly a sign of Christian brotherhood and love. A memorable day.
All the other African priests in Finland, father Jean-Claude Kabeza and Eze Charles Nwoko, sent their greetings to the festivities as well as the priests that came from Rome. One Nigerian priest had just finished his studies. He wrote his doctorate on mystic experiences and was now on the road back to Nigeria to serve his community.
In the booklet distributed during the mass was a short presentation of the African Chaplaincy highlighting its spiritual mission and its importance in bringing back to the Catholic church the many Africans living in Finland. The main goal is the strengthening of spiritual life, practised through meetings, retreats, pilgrimages, education and outreach programs.
The African Chaplaincy can look back to five very productive years. In my view it is an extraordinary effort that father Leonard has achieved. The regular masses and meeting strengthen the community and our diocese.
The African Chaplaincy is not a mono-cultural activity. In the festivities participated guests from Germany, the US, Portugal and naturally from Finland. This is natural as the chaplaincy works with persons representing many African nations, tribes and language groups. It is a sign that we all belong to the worldwide Catholic Church united by the same faith and the same sacraments under the Holy Father in Rome, as bishop Teemu so well expressed it. He noted further that “this diocese is our spiritual home and it is important that we build a family in this home, supporting it, together with all our Catholic brothers and sisters”.