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Boston Nigerian Catholic community celebrates 25 years in Grove Hall church

Nate Homan | 7/30/2014, 12:14 p.m.
A Nigerian cardinal flew in from the Vatican to participate in the celebration of 25 years of Nigerian services at ...
Cardinal Francis Arinze addresses a gathering of Nigerian parishioners during a celebration at the Reggie Lewis Track Facility. (Banner photo)

Nigerian-born Cardinal Francis Arinze flew in from the Vatican to join Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley in hosting a Silver Jubilee Festival for Boston’s Nigerian Catholic community.

The celebration marked the 25th anniversary of the Nigerian community’s services at the Saint Katharine Drexel Parish. Following a mass at the church, Cardinal Arinze joined the community for a reception at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center.

“We were more than overjoyed to have the Cardinal attend our celebration,” Nigerian Catholic Community Vice Chairman Peter Uzoma said. “It serves as an affirmation that we are part of the Archdiocese and a big part of the Nigerian community.”

Boston-based Nigerian Catholics started the Nigerian Catholic Community in an apartment room in Mattapan which grew into a full congregation in 1988, when worshipers requested that they worship separately in their native tongue and with their shared sense of heritage.

“We like to take our time when we worship,” Uzoma said. “Our services are very relaxed. No one is in a rush. The people dress up in bright clothes and feel at home worshiping here.”

“I live in Hyde Park. There are two churches on my street. But I come here to be with my people and feel at home,” Uzoma said.

Families and churchgoers came from Hyde Park, Dorchester, Roxbury, Randolph and other towns in the Greater Boston Area to attend the large mass and take part in the gala celebration. The sermons were delivered in English and traditional songs were sung in Igbo.

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State Rep. Gloria Fox presents Cardinal Francis Arinze with a citation from the state Legislature congratulating Nigerian worshipers at the Saint Katharine Drexel Parish for 25 years of services. At far left is City Councilor Charles Yancey.

Jumaada Smith, who served as a liaison between church and elected officials said Mayor Martin Walsh and Governor Deval Patrick sent letters recognizing the Jubilee on behalf of the City and the Commonwealth respectively. City Councilor Tito Jackson and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz attended the mass and Rep. Gloria Fox and Councilor Charles Yancey were in attendance at the gala.

Smith estimated about 300 people attended the mass and the 50 tables at the Reggie Lewis Center held over 400 at the gala. Founder Reverend Gerald Osterman was honored at the dinner and was hailed as the grandfather of the community. Following the acknowledgement, a youth dance team performed and opened the dance floor for all in attendance

“It was a once in a lifetime event,” Sister Christiana Onyewuche said.

“We see Cardinal Arinze on TV or read about him in books, but people wanted to see him, touch his hands one on one and enjoy him here.”

The Cardinal praised the Nigerian Catholic Community and was overjoyed to see Nigerians that had the initiative to worship together and stick together.

“He knew it is hard to start over in a new country,” Sister Onyewechu said. “Some scatter and go to various churches. This group comes together every Sunday from 25 years and it was such an honor to have him here. It was a dream come true.”

“The Cardinal encouraged us to live up to the expectation that never forget who we are and where we come from,” Sister Onyewechu said. “Our history is ours to remember and teach. People can forget their roots and he talked about the importance of our unity.”