Posted on 23 May 2016
By Elizabeth McFarlane
There was a kaleidoscope of colour and the sound of thundering drums and joyful clapping as the African Catholic community in the Diocese of Parramatta gathered for this year’s Africa Day Mass on 22 May in St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown.
The harmonious display of rich culture, music and dress from across the continent introduced the thematic celebration of faith lived out and celebrated in union with African culture and identity within the Australian Church and context.
The 53rd anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the African Union (AU), is celebrated on 25 May each year. Africa Day provides an opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of the peoples and governments of Africa.
The day commemorates the hard-fought liberation and freedom of African communities, and looks onward to the collaboration and empowerment of the people of Africa in communion with one another, curtailing disadvantages entrenched by diaspora.
Fr Christopher Antwi-Boasiako, the Chaplain of the African Catholic community, said the day was a day to celebrate unity.
“In 1958, African leaders came together to discuss emancipation and freedom for Africa politically, socially and economically. They also discussed solidarity and cooperation among African states. It was a liberation movement,” Fr Chris said.
“On 25 May 1963, 32 African states convened a summit in Ethiopia where they signed a founding charter for Africa Day.
“We are celebrating our unity. As Catholics, we celebrate Africa Day so as to celebrate our culture as one people, and it also helps us shape our life in the context of living in Australia.
“We believe that unity is for everyone and we are so united because we belong to the same African continent.”
The power of being in communion is tied to Catholic theology, further detailed by the Principal Celebrant for the Mass, the Diocesan Administrator, Very Rev Peter G Williams.
“You cannot be a Christian in isolation,” Fr Peter said.
Referencing the mystery of the Triune God, Fr Peter went on to remark on the nature of God in relationship, and the importance of Christians being connected by the faith, relating this faith connection to the many African countries represented on the day being in communion both in culture and faith.
Fr Chris said the day also showcases the history and traditions of Africa, passing on the customs to the youth.
“As we live in Australia, it is important that we do not lose our connection with our culture,” he said. “Africa Day also has the aim to help the young ones learn about our culture and get to know each other.
“We want the young ones to learn the moral aspects of our culture. Respect and obedience to our parents and the elderly is very important to us. As we celebrate, we understand that this is something that connects all the different African states.”
One of six children, Fr Chris’s parents raised him and his siblings strong in the faith.
“My brother also became a priest and he is now based in Italy. When the bishop asked me to come to Australia, it took me some time to respond,” Fr Chris said.
“I sat my Mum down and I told her what the Bishop had asked of me. Knowing my Dad had passed away and that my only other brother was serving as a priest in Italy, it was very hard to leave her.
“I remember she bent her head down for a minute and then, as she raised her head, she said, ‘I offered you to God through Mother Mary. If that is what God needs you to do, I give you my blessing.’”
Fr Chris believes the African Catholic community bridges the gap between his home in Ghana and his home in Australia.
“We are not trying to be a Church within a Church. I am very thankful to the Diocese of Parramatta for the chaplaincy, as it continues to be a source of encouragement for us as Africans,” he said.
“It gives us the opportunity to celebrate in our own tradition while continuing to serve in our local parishes.”
To view a gallery of images from the Africa Day celebrations click here