"Folks are very comfortable singing and praying in their own language," said cathedral Rector Very Rev. James Matthews. Above, Father Matthews delivers the homily on Palm Sunday.
ALBERT C. PACCIORINI/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Cathedral rector envisions bringing unity to diversity
Even after having spent more than 40 years as a priest of the Diocese of Oakland — including more than a quarter of a century as pastor of Oakland's St. Benedict Parish — the Very Rev. James Matthews was not quite prepared for the many challenges he assumed when he became rector at the Cathedral of Christ the Light over a year ago.
One challenge involves how the one parish came about. Although formed in 2007, Christ the Light Parish is made up of four separate communities. "They are separated — not divided — by language and by culture," Father Matthews said.
While he presides over the "mother church" of the Diocese of Oakland, Father Matthews is also the territorial pastor of the Parish of Christ the Light. This parish formed following the merger of three downtown Oakland parishes — St. Francis de Sales, St. Mary, Immaculate Conception, and St. Andrew-St. Joseph — that had "distinctive ethnic/cultural communities" (Vietnamese, Latino and Filipino) along with English-speaking Caucasian, African American and African communities that also existed. All of which produced a patchwork parish of four worship communities without a "vision of unity as one parish," Father Matthews said in an interview earlier this month.
Nothing reflects these individual communities more than in weekend Masses. On Saturday mornings there's a Mass in Vietnamese; in the evening the vigil Mass is celebrated in English. On Sunday mornings there is a Mass in Vietnamese and one in English while in the afternoon there is a Mass in English and one in Spanish.
Father Matthews has plans to add more unity to the diversity by bringing together the different languages and ethnicities at one Mass. On Thanksgiving Day of last year only one Mass was scheduled and the worship space was filled. "We could have celebrated the Mass multiculturally and have everyone come together," said the rector.
Noting that the parish's different ethnic and cultural groups have devotions to specific saints and martyrs, Father Matthews hopes to schedule Masses on these feast days and encourage the different communities to worship together at these services. But bringing people of different languages and ethnicities together may take time, he said.
"Folks are very comfortable singing and praying in their own language, that's part of reality," Father Matthews said. But he said that it's important to try to bring unity to diversity so that the cathedral parish can feel as one parish.
The rector would like to further develop the community of Spanish speakers. While a number of retired and current priests who speak Spanish in the diocese have helped to preside at the Spanish speaking Masses, Father Matthews search for a bilingual parochial vicar is complete.
Effective Aug. 1, Rev. Alfonso Borgen, OFM Conv, will be the new parochial vicar at the cathedral.
Excited by the pilgrimages that have brought parishes and parish groups to the cathedral during the current Year of Mercy, Father Matthews said that he is looking into hosting pilgrimages that could bring the diverse community together as well. These pilgrimages have given some parishes the opportunity to actually visit the cathedral. (For a list of upcoming pilgrimages, click here.)
The cathedral belongs to the people of the diocese, said Father Matthews. "All are welcomed here."
In addition to his roles at the cathedral, Father Matthews is also serving as interim administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish located on the opposite side of Lake Merritt. The parish's longtime pastor, Rev. Seamus Genovese, died in 2015 after a long battle with cancer.
While the rector visits the parish weekly, Rev. Jim Schexnayder, a retired diocesan priest, has been attending to the parish's day-to-day needs.
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