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placeholder  September 7, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
Above, during the Mass, most of the women covered their heads with gauzy white veils. Left, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, blesses a child at the end of Mass for the Eritrean community at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley on Aug. 22.
ALL: MICHELE JURICH/
THE CATHOLIC VOICE

Bishop joins celebration of Eritrean community

Two years ago, when he was ordained bishop, the Eritrean community was among the first to pray for the Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ.

Their chanting and drumming were part of the memorable prelude to the bishop's Mass of ordination and installation on May 25, 2013.

On a warm August evening, the bishop, in his words, "returned the visit" at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley, where the Eritrean community has made its home for more than two decades.

"You were the first to welcome me as the bishop of Oakland, so I am very happy to return the visit to you on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary," he said.

The almost two-hour celebration was replete with chanting, drumming and song in Ge'ez, which is one of the four Semitic languages. It remains the liturgical language for the Catholics of this Eastern rite, which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. About 200 people of all ages filled the church, with most of the women covering their heads with gauzy white veils.

The bishop noted that immigration is much in the news.

"We see the sad sight of so many immigrants wanting to travel from Africa to Europe, Africa to America," he said." We see so many of the ships sinking, people swimming in the ocean, people arriving in ships overcrowded and some have died along the way. It is very, very sad to see this happening, and we wish it were not so. So great is the desire of these people to leave one land and go to another that they are willing to sell their house, pay large sums of money to get on the boat that's not even seaworthy," he said.

"All of us here tonight want to get to the promised land, Heaven, which is our true home. We are not meant to live here on earth forever," he said.

"Mary, mother of God, is the first to go before us. So she guides us along the path all along our life's journey, from the time of our baptism until the time we die," he said. "She has gone before us. She is our mother. She cares and consoles us. We need have no fear of crossing, no fear of death, if we have been baptized, if we have been faithful to Confession and Holy Communion," he said.

Rev. Ghebriel Woldai, pastor to the Eritrean community who celebrated the Mass — and played the drum and led chanting while the bishop blessed each family present — thanked the bishop for his presence, and support of the community.

"This feels like our house," he said. "Your presence here gives us confidence. We pray in this beautiful church. We give hope to those who don't have hope."

"This community has suffered a lot," he said, noting it has experienced torture, and seen loved ones die in the ocean. "We carry this burden with us," he said. "We need someone to have our backs."

He also promised the bishop support. "Above all," Father Woldai said, "we're your friends."

The Eritrean community includes families from not just the East Bay, he said, but San Jose, San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Sacramento.

Father Woldai said, "We baptized eight children, had two or three first communions. … We're expanding. ... This is good news for the Diocese of Oakland and for the community. My people promise you our prayers and they support the bishop."

By staying together, Father Woldai said, the community will "enhance this tradition and culture."

He thanked Sister Felicia Sarati, CSJ, director of ethnic ministries, for her support. "We claim her as our own," he said.

"Father Ghebriel, thank you for taking care of this parish," the bishop said. He called the liturgy spectacular and divine. "I didn't know if we were in heaven or on earth," he said. "Thank you for keeping this culture alive. Your prayers, your faith, your love for Mother Mary are a great inspiration for me."

 
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