Main Site Navigation
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin may have Irish in his blood, but he has ties to Africa as well—since June of 2013, he has served as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) subcommittee on the Church in Africa.
Yet in his four years as Archbishop of Indianapolis, he has not had an opportunity to celebrate the annual African Catholic Mass for the African community of the archdiocese.
He fit that pleasure in just weeks before leaving for his new role as Archbishop of Newark, N.J.
As African Catholic Community coordinator Sally Stovall told the congregation at the Mass on Dec. 4, “We asked for the archbishop, and we got a cardinal!”
The Mass was celebrated on that day at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis. Joining Cardinal Tobin in concelebrating were 10 priests from around the archdiocese, including several serving as missionaries from Africa.
The Mass was punctuated by traditions of African Catholic worship—drums, rousing music, children leading processions with African dance, and the carrying of a Book of the Gospels in a bag slung over a bent person, walking as if carrying the weight of the world.
After the Gospel was proclaimed, Cardinal Tobin spoke of Advent and dreams in his homily.
“Advent is a time for dreaming,” he said. “Our dreams. The dreams of our community. The dreams of our Church.
“But most importantly, Advent invites us to dream the dreams of God, the dreams of the kingdom that is at hand.”
He said that, as he prayed about St. Paul’s message in the second reading, “This jumped out at me, these words: ‘May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with each other’ (Rom 15:5).
“My brothers and sisters, the big message from the last election is the message of how we are a divided people. Nations are divided. Communities are divided. Families are divided. It seems that many people are losing hope about the opportunity to live in harmony. They’re saying, ‘There is no longer any reason to dream.’ ”
But there is reason to hope and dream, Cardinal Tobin continued. That hope is based on the words from the first reading—Is 11:1-10—words reflected in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Listen carefully to see if you hear the words of God that we listened to today,” he said. “Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of our Lord will be revealed. All flesh will see it together. This is our hope.’
“My dear brothers and sisters, during Advent time, we are not dreaming of a white Christmas. We are not dreaming of a black Christmas. Those dreams would be too small, too cheap.
“Instead, we ask the Lord again to pour out his Spirit upon us so that all of us together may dream the dreams of God.”
Before the closing of the Mass, a gift was given to Cardinal Tobin on behalf of the archdiocesan African Catholic Community: a special garment, hat and beads from Africa.
“The attire we gave Cardinal Tobin is from Nigeria and is commonly worn by titled Igbo men of eastern Nigeria,” explained Stovall, a member of Holy Angels Parish and a native of Nigeria. “The attire is called ‘akwa onye eze’ in the Igbo language, meaning ‘attire made for kingly people.’ ”
The cap, called an “okpu agu” in the Igbo language, “signifies the person wearing the cap is an agent of his people,” she said. “Not everyone can wear the cap, as it is a representation of a king or chief.
“Although the cardinal has many titles, we gave him these gifts as we see him as an agent of his people through our African culture and traditions.”
Three youths also used the Igbo, French and Swahili languages to thank the cardinal for celebrating the Mass.
Given the cardinal’s support for Africa through his role with the USCCB, Dabrice Bartet, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis and a native of the African country of Togo, said it was “very fitting” for Cardinal Tobin to celebrate the Mass for the African Catholic Community.
“With all the work he has done for us here, we are so grateful that he was able to [celebrate the Mass],” she said.
Deacon candidate Oliver Jackson, a St. Rita parishioner who expects to be ordained a permanent deacon next June, reflected on the cardinal’s message after the Mass.
“The dream is to be [a] child of God,” he said. “I haven’t heard too many people interpret the dream that Martin Luther [King] said in that way. When you look at it, that is what he was saying, and it did come from the Bible passage” that served as the first reading.
When asked his thoughts on the cardinal leaving the archdiocese, Jackson admitted he was sad to see him go.
“For the four years that I’ve been going through this [diaconate] process, he’s been nothing but supportive,” he said.
Stovall, who has led the archdiocesan African Catholic Community since its inception 13 years ago, also lauded Cardinal Tobin’s support. She credited him with creating a full-time position for archdiocesan director of Intercultural Ministry. Without that role, she said, “We wouldn’t be where we are today.”
A reception held after the Mass was intended to honor another person who has been a pillar of support for the African Catholic Community—Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix Sister Christine Nantaba, a native of Uganda. Like Stovall, Sister Christine has been with the ministry from the start. She was recently reassigned by her order to a new ministry in Chicago. A welcome celebration in Chicago prevented her from attending the Mass and reception at St. Rita.
“She was secretary of the African Catholic Community, and then we needed her more with the liturgy, which is the core of what we do,” Stovall explained. “So she became the choir director. She spent time preparing for the Mass, teaching the drummers, preparing for our retreat and anything else. …. We will miss her dearly.”
Despite Sister Christine’s absence, the reception served as a send-off anyway—for Cardinal Tobin instead of Sister Christine.
During the reception, glasses were raised in a toast to the cardinal led by Father Jerome Robinson, a priest of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., who served for many years in Nigeria and is now residing at St. Rita Parish while between assignments.
“We are the beneficiaries of your service in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, even though we thought we’d have you for a longer period of time,” he said. “We love you. We appreciate your holiness and simplicity, who you are and how you helped our ministry in so many ways.
“May God continue to prosper your path, through the intercession of our Holy Redeemer. … For who you are in our hearts, for what you have done over these past four years, we toast you.”†