Vietnamese dancers, matachines and more

Jerry Naunheim Jr.

A multicultural Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on the Feast of St. Toribio Romo was right up the alley for two communities of women religious from Vietnam.

The communities, the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Hanoi and Our Lady of Unity of Bac Ninh, have sisters visiting and studying in St. Louis as guests of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in south St. Louis County. They participate in a formal English language immersion program the SSNDs designed for them.

"We can learn and share our culture with others," said Sister Linh Do, LHC. "It's important to understand others' cultures. It makes it easier to get along."

Six of the Vietnamese sisters danced at festivities in front of the cathedral basilica before Mass. They also were part of a choir that sang at Mass.

The activity outdoors drew several onlookers. Ryan Starks-Thomas, a local artist who attends a Baptist church, took out his phone and snapped several selfies with the Vietnamese dancers and with matachines from Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann.

"I like the coming together of cultures," he said. "Bringing awareness is good. It's something that should be embraced, and it shows the beauty of what the Almighty produced. I was passing by, saw this and had to stop."

Also enjoying the diversity were two people from Iran who walked over from nearby apartments when they saw the activity. "Seeing people gathered together from different backgrounds is exciting," said Payam Lashkari, whose work brought him to St. Louis several months ago.

After applauding the dancers enthusiastically, Sue Syers of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in House Springs said the event is "a wonderful way to introduce different cultures. It's so beautiful."

Another member of the parish in House Springs, Terry Oslund, said it showed that the Church is universal. "We're able to take a trip around the world without having to leave St. Louis," she said.

The archdiocesan Office of Sacred Worship and Office of Hispanic Ministry along with the Peace and Justice Commission organized the Mass and festivities on the feast of the patron saint of immigrants. They invited attendees to wear traditional attire of their homelands. Giovanni Madriz of the Office of Hispanic Ministry spoke at the outdoor festivities, urging people to introduce themselves to the other attendees.

Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso, celebrant of the Mass, asked people to recognize the beauty of the Church in its diversity. The variety of customs "make the Church so rich," he said.

He asked people to see Christ in the stranger and to reach out to immigrants and refugees who "are not to be feared. St. Toribio shows us the way to embrace them as we embrace Christ himself — with great compassion."

Father John O'Brien, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, gave the homily. He referred to the Gospel reading, Matthew 25:34-40, and real love as "more than just feelings of compassion."

Real love seeks to better the lives of others, he said. It involves overcoming fear and takes courage, he added, citing the need to stand up to counter unjust immigration policies, for example. "We must be strong enough to confront injustices and reverse hatred in this country," he said.

Patrick Thimangu, who came to the United States from Kenya, brought his children so they could see the many cultures within the Catholic Church. Several other families attended with their children. "It's great to see how we're all connected and can come together for our beliefs and faith," Thimangu said. 

St. Toribio Romo Gonzalez

A victim of persecution of the Church in Mexico, St. Toribio was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000 with other martyrs of the Mexican Revolution. St. Toribio was born in 1900 and became a priest at age 21. He was murdered by soldiers in 1928 near the town of Tequila during the height of the Cristero War, and his remains were brought back to the parish in Santa Ana.

St. Toribio became known throughout the region and in migrant communities on both sides of the border as a protector of immigrants and people who flee persecution and violence in their homelands. 

When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.

Leviticus 19:33-34 

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