Archdiocese Local

Special ceremony inaugurates African Catholic community into the archdiocese

Members of the African Catholic Community of Kansas take part in a special ceremony to inaugurate the community into the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas at Prince of Peace Church in Olathe on Nov. 7. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

OLATHE — Their cultures and traditions are as unique as the languages they speak, the songs they sing and the clothing they wear.

But the African Catholic Community of Kansas is bound by their shared faith, and each month, they come together to celebrate it the traditional African way.

“There’s always singing, clapping [and] dancing, which is not very typical in the Western world,” said community president Abiodun Akinwuntan. “Sometimes, the African families miss that.”

Each gathering “creates a sense of belonging, a spiritual connection, to build a true African family and to also retain our African identity,” he added.

Father Beyuo Kuukole, chaplain of the African Catholic Community of Kansas, bows before the altar at Prince of Peace Church in Olathe on Nov. 7. The special ceremony inaugurated the community into the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

And while each of these monthly Masses is special, this latest one, celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on Nov. 7 at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, was exceptional.

It included a ceremony that inaugurated the community into the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Father Greg Hammes, pastor of Prince of Peace, and Father Beyuo Kuukole, chaplain of the African Catholic Community of Kansas, were concelebrants. Father Kenn Clem, associate pastor of Prince of Peace, served as master of ceremonies. They were joined by a handful of priests from around the archdiocese.

Deacon Mike Denning of Prince of Peace also assisted during the Mass.

Members of the African community sing in the choir during the Nov. 7 Mass. Those involved represent countries from across Africa. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The passionate singing, colorful clothing and traditional customs included in the Mass reminded Archbishop Naumann of his time in the seminary, when one of his classmates, who was African American, spent part of the summer in Africa.

“I remember him coming back from that experience,” the archbishop shared during his homily, “and he said experiencing the church in Africa was like walking into the Acts of the Apostles.

“He said the church there was so vibrant, so alive, with so much joy.”

“I’ve never myself been to Africa,” the archbishop said. “But I’m glad Africa has come to us.”

United in faith

The African Catholic Community of Kansas was created as a ministry in the archdiocese in July 2019.

Its members meet every first Sunday of the month at 1 p.m. at Prince of Peace, but all archdiocesan Catholics are invited to attend.

A woman prays during the African Mass at Prince of Peace Nov. 7. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

For Akinwuntan, who was born in Nigeria and grew up Catholic, the community has become an extension of his family.

He moved with his wife and three children to Kansas in 2016 and joined St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

When he’s not working as dean of the School of Health Professions at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Akinwuntan volunteers as a lector, usher and member of the Knights of Columbus.

Although life is busy, discovering the African Catholic Community provided something his family was missing.

“For me, as a true cultural man who’s bringing up his children in the Western world, it’s an opportunity to help my children see how Mass is done in their native land of origin,” he said.

Archbishop Naumann accepts the gifts from a young boy and girl during the African Mass Nov. 7. For many involved in the local African community, it’s an opportunity to share their culture and traditions with their children. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The community has introduced his children, who have all attended Catholic schools, to other youth from Africa. It also gives members a chance to support each other in their lives in the United States.

“We try to have a relationship with one another beyond just meeting in church once a month,” said Akinwuntan. “We learn to serve as a resource and help one another.”

For community vice president Kenneth Gitobu, who is originally from Kenya, the group’s monthly gatherings have “filled the void” that resulted from moving to a new country more than 19 years ago and losing aspects of his native culture.

“The African Catholic Community is composed of people from different countries and tribes in Africa,” he said. “Each group brings its uniqueness and culture, but the beauty is in the similarities that are seen in how we celebrate Mass.”

Members of the choir sing during Mass Nov. 7 at Prince of Peace. The African Mass, which takes place each first Sunday of the month in the archdiocese, is filled with passionate singing and other customs unique to African culture. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Gitobu has worked in healthcare for more than 18 years and recently joined friends to start an Ascension HomeHealth Care in Overland Park.

He, his wife Margaret and their three children belong to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, which, he said, “has been a wonderful parish to grow in faith and fellowship.”

“They took us in and made us feel welcome,” he added.

Finding an additional community of support — the African Catholic Community of Kansas — has been a blessing, and sharing his culture with the wider archdiocesan community is a big part of that.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann talks with Thomas Miano, provost of the African Catholic Community and representative of the group at the National Association of African Catholics in the U.S. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Deacon Denning has assisted in multiple African Masses at Prince of Peace.

“It is a beautiful reminder of the Church’s catholicity — our universality,” he said. “Christ is the light to the nations — all nations. 

“As I draw around Christ’s table with this amazing group, I appreciate their incredible cultures, and, at the same time, our common enrichment.”

Members of the African Catholic Community of Kansas kneel before the altar for a special blessing by Archbishop Naumann. The community was inaugurated into the archdiocese Nov. 7. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Deacon Denning would recommend other Catholics in the archdiocese come to one of the Masses to see what it’s all about.

“I have personally experienced a sense of “aggiornamento” — an opening of the windows of my sense of liturgy,” he said. “The music, the manner in which the Gospel is processed, the joy of the parishioners, their dress — which reflects how they approach the Mass — this is a unique experience available to everyone in the archdiocese.”

Deacon Mike Denning reads the Gospel during the African Mass on Nov. 7. He has served at many of the community’s Masses and encourages other Catholics of the archdiocese to attend one, too. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Archbishop Naumann was moved by the joy the community exhibited at the November Mass.

In his homily, he told the inspiring tale of one African woman, Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose book “Left to Tell” detailed her survival of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

“Immaculée Ilibagiza’s story is a remarkable testimony of what the power of God’s grace can accomplish in the faint of heart — even in the most horrible of circumstances,” he said.

Archbishop Naumann and the African Catholic Community of Kansas are all smiles after the Nov. 7 Mass at Prince of Peace. After the Mass, attendees gathered for a reception. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The archbishop hoped those in attendance would recognize the blessings in their own lives, despite the challenges they face.

 “If our hearts are open, we will discover that each of us has been remarkably blessed by God,” he said, “even in the midst of these adversities.”

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver in 2018, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage the website and social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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