Every school year at St. Andrew the Apostle, students celebrate three “Diversity Masses” exposing them to elements of Asian, Hispanic and African modes of worship.
“Our theme today revolves around different titles of the Blessed Mother used in Asia,” noted teacher Mollie Hedlund, before the Oct. 28 Mass in which students processed into church carrying images of Vietnam’s Our Lady of La Vang and the Madonnas of Korea, China, Japan and the Philippines.
The first reading was read in Chinese by a student and her mother, while two students delivered the prayers of the faithful in Vietnamese. The school choir also sang a hymn in Vietnamese during the Presentation of the Gifts. Passages read in a foreign language were repeated in English to maximize participation.
During the homily, Father Beau Charbonnet, St. Andrew’s associate pastor, told the students the story of Vietnamese Catholics living in 1798 who were forced to flee to the forest to escape the religious persecution of their ruler, Emporer Canh Thinh.
Facing sickness and starvation, some of the exiles were saying the rosary when they spotted a haloed lady in the branches of a tree, holding a baby. She was flanked by two angels.
“They knew that this was Mary,” Father Charbonnet said. “She told them if you take the leaves from these trees and boil them, the sick will get better and your prayers will be answered.”
Father Charbonnet closed by paying tribute to a Vietnamese-born man he became friends with in the seminary. As a child in the 1970s, the friend had left Vietnam to escape yet another era of religious persecution. Father Charbonnet was impressed by how his friend never gave up trying to get every member of his family to safety in the United States.
“The people of Vietnam taught me the value of family,” Father Charbonnet said. “They know that Mary is our mother. They know that Jesus was our big brother and our Lord. They knew more than anyone else that God is our father, that heaven is our home, that we stand together as one.”
Before Mass, members of the youth group from St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Church in Marerro gathered on the blacktop to perform a dance in front of the entire student body. Lunch that day was chicken strips with an Asian-style sauce.
Each school-based Diversity Mass at St. Andrew is repeated at the parish level on the following Sunday morning. The school Mass celebrating Hispanic culture, always scheduled to take place near the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is set for Dec. 13; the African-inspired school Mass will be Jan. 20, in advance of February’s Black History Month.