by Marc and Julie Anderson
TROY — Saint Luke might have written the Acts of the Apostles between 80-90 A.D., but he certainly would recognize “koinonia” if he saw it today.
From the Greek for “fellowship” or “community,” the idea served as the theme of the Sept. 13 celebration hosted by St. Charles Parish in Troy, which drew members from three neighboring parishes under the leadership of Father Francis Bakyor. Besides St. Charles Parish, Father Bakyor also serves as pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Bendena and St. Joseph Parish in Wathena.
Several months ago, Father Bakyor brought the idea of hosting a celebration for all three parishes to the respective pastoral councils and parish committees. As it’s been nearly 50 years since all three parishes held a joint celebration of any kind (other than celebrations of first Communion and confirmation), the idea was enthusiastically received.
But Father Bakyor added a few twists of his own.
Drawing on his African heritage, Father Bakyor, a native of Ghana, invited members of St. Francis Africans Catholic Community from the Kansas City metro area to join in the celebration. Members sang hymns of thanksgiving in Swahili and danced in procession before the outdoor Mass began. And they accompanied the offertory hymn with instruments from Africa, including the kayamba. Made of reeds or sugar cane and filled with seeds, the flat instrument is played by shaking it horizontally with both hands.
Additionally, Father Bakyor invited Archbishop Gregory Kpiebaya, the archbishop emeritus of Tamale, Ghana and his ordaining bishop more than 30 years ago, to serve as the main celebrant. The archbishop was visiting the United States to participate in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Calling the celebration “Koinonia” or Fellowship, Sunday, Father Bakyor thanked the 400 or so in attendance for their participation. He added a special word of welcome to both non-Catholics and nonpracticing Catholics in the crowd.
“The church is yours. Don’t go away,” he said. He added that people were welcome to come to the church, especially if they were looking for a change in their lives.
Father Bakyor also briefly explained the concept of “koinonia” by sharing a few words about how the earliest Christians practiced their faith, an idea further developed by Archbishop Kpiebaya in his homily.
“They devoted themselves to three basic elements of our faith: namely, the teaching of the apostles (that is, Scripture), to the breaking of the bread (that is, the holy Eucharist) and to prayer. Secondly, they were together and held all things in common. This was an innovation, a new experience known as ‘koinonia,’ a Greek word which means ‘fellowship,’ ‘togetherness,’ ‘commonality.’ Thirdly, they ate together with joy.”
The archbishop connected the early Christians’ practices to the day’s celebration by saying, “What the first Christians did is exactly what you are doing here. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. Is that not what you are doing now?”
“They gathered to break the bread and to pray,” Archbishop Kpiebaya continued. “We have gathered to break the bread and pray. So, we are very close to the first disciples of Jesus. They ate together with joy.
“Are you not going to do the same thing here? First, we shall all share the heavenly table. Then, afterwards, we shall all share the human table.”
After Mass, parishioners and guests enjoyed a potluck meal in the church basement and were treated to more singing and dancing by the St. Francis Africans Catholic Community Kansas/Missouri.
Shirley Buessing, a member of St. Charles Parish who helped to plan and organize the event, said she hopes the parishes will plan other events together in the future.
It’s very uplifting, she said, when everyone gets together to celebrate their faith.
For Marilyn Young, secretary of St. Benedict Church in Bendena, the celebration also brought much joy.
“It’s a good idea to get everyone together,” Young said, adding she enjoyed the international flair as well.
“I think it really added to the celebration. It was a great addition to our celebration of the liturgy.” This was her first encounter with African culture, she said.
Mike Vertin, a member of the pastoral council of St. Joseph Church in Wathena, said he thought the idea of coming together as one and learning about African culture at the same time was a good one.
“It was the first time for all of us to get together like this,” he said. “We’re very diverse, but we have one faith that is in common, no matter where we are in the world.”