Annual Migration Mass celebrates different cultures, common faith

Mieke Rossi came to the Mass at St. Pius V to share her Dutch heritage. What she left with was an appreciation of other cultures, represented right on her plate at a potluck lunch held after Mass.

Outfitted in a traditional dress from her home country of the Netherlands, Rossi, who married an Italian and moved to St. Louis 10 years ago, enjoyed sushi and a spring roll as she reflected on the annual Migration Mass, held on the feast of Epiphany Jan. 4 at the south St. Louis parish.

"I've been here about seven years," she said of the parish. "It's a small world," she said of the representation of dozens of nationalities at the parish. "But I take pride in being part of an amazing community of nationalities."

The Mass marks the beginning of the U.S. bishops' National Migration Week, a celebration of the unity and diversity of the parish and Church family. The theme this year is "We are One Family Under God."

At the Mass, readings and prayers were offered in the native tongue of several countries, including Vietnam, Cuba, India, Ghana, Angola and Burma. African and Burmese choirs shared their musical talents, as several others wearing traditional dress from African, Vietnam, Ghana, Toga and Burma, presented the gifts.

St. Pius pastor Father John Vien noted that on Epiphany, Christ was revealed to all the nations. Likewise, the migration Mass is an opportunity to consider how "the birth of Christ upends our sense of border," he said, noting that Mary and Joseph crossed numerous borders before they came to Bethlehem. Certainly the Magi crossed many borders on their journey to find the Christ child, too.

But yet our world continues to struggle with our understanding of borders, said Father Vien. Political and religious divide result in ongoing suffering and tragic deaths for Israelis and Palestinians. Violence continues with Ukrainians and Russian separatists, long after cease-fires have been called. And people in West African nations affected by Ebola have been quarantined and separated from their communities to stop the deadly disease, but the stigmas and continued fear of infection have left many isolated.

In the United States, deaths of black men by white police officers have left our communities divided, he continued. Poverty is dividing the American experience, and families who are undocumented have led to greater divisions in our country rather than greater empathy for those families who are struggling, he said.

"Christ's birth calls us to consider carefully going beyond borders," he said. "What borders are we called to cross? Fear of others and our own inadequacies prevent us from crossing those borders."

For the past 25 years, St. Pius has crossed those borders through its Immigrant and Refugee Ministry, which welcomes, assists and advocates for immigrants and refugees who settle in the neighborhoods surrounding the parish. Precious Blood Sister Paulette Weindel recently retired from the ministry, which receives support from the Annual Catholic Appeal.

Sister Leslie Dao, a member of the Congregation of Mary, Queen of the World, who took over the ministry last fall, noted that the parish works with individuals -- most recently people have come from Iraq, Africa, Burma, Nepal and Bhutan -- once they have gone through the International Institute of St. Louis. The institute is moving to the former St. Elizabeth Academy in St. Louis.

"We love them as Christ loved them," she said. "We help them navigate St. Louis. Oftentimes they don't know where to turn -- they get so lost. We look at them as Children of God, and help wherever we can."

Ciang Man, a member of St. Pius who fled her native Burma -- strife with ethnic civil wars and human rights violations -- for "a better life and freedom." St. Pius, she said, "has welcomed us and are very kind to us. They take care of us."

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