31 January 2010

St. Benedict the Moor Church

I was looking at a map of the churches I’ve visited so far, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t really gone to any on the east side of D.C. I figured I needed to balance out the map a little bit, so I found St. Benedict the Moor Church in Southeast D.C. It’s about as far east as you go without crossing the Anacostia River, near RFK Stadium, former home of the Washington Nationals.

Oh, did I mention that D.C. got about three inches of snow yesterday? This is entirely a foreign experience to me, being from Southern California. I marveled at the snowy streets, fields, and parking lots all the way to church while my friend Loreto, from upstate New York, amused himself with my naivety.

St. Benedict the Moor is a small church, built in the mid-twentieth century. It looked a lot like a small version of St. Thomas the Apostle: a square, blunt building. Today was the men’s choir’s turn to perform. The choir consisted of six men, all wearing nearly identical black suits and light blue ties. The boys were a little flat this morning, but they really seemed to be enjoying themselves and it was pleasure to listen to them. I also have to give them credit for singing one of my favorite church songs, “Soon And Very Soon.”

The priest was a young Filipino man, who splits his time between two parishes, St. Benedict the Moor and St. Vincent de Paul. He gives an 8 AM Mass and a 12 PM Mass at St. Vincent de Paul and a 10 AM Mass at St. Benedict the Moor in between. Father Richard’s homily sounded more like a Sunday school lecture than the more abstract reflections on Scripture offered by other priests. I liked his style of preaching, because it was practical. He not only interpreted the readings, but told the congregation how to apply Scripture’s lessons to our everyday lives. He talked about leadership, and the obstacles that stand in the way of becoming a great leader. The first was FEAR. In the first reading, he said, the Lord told Jeremiah not to be afraid to be a prophet, and spread the word of God. The second was FAILURE. While fear prevents us from starting to be a leader, failure keeps us from continuing. Failing to be patient or forgiving, for example, can become an obstacle to success. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus refuses to perform great miracles for the people of Nazareth after he has performed miracles in Capernaum, and the people run him out of town. This, he said, is an example of another obstacle to leadership, FAVORITISM. When Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, he refuses to grant special favors to the people there, because when you favor one person, you disfavor someone else. We should avoid the temptation to treat people unequally, Father Richard said. The Nazareans said to Jesus, “Hey man, we went to Nazareth Junior High together!” But Jesus’ response was, “Physician, cure yourself.”

I’ve been to two Black Catholic Churches now, and the most remarkable thing about both is the sense of community. There is an incredible connection between the members of the church, whether they are complaining about the snow in the parking lot or smiling and shaking hands after Mass. At the end of the Mass, they asked visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. I stood up, and told them about my project. After Mass, Loreto and I were given a dozen warm welcomes and invitations to return, as well as well-wishings for my project. By the time I left, I felt like I was part of the community too.

St. Benedict the Moor Website (For my Mommy)


RFK Stadium: This is where UCLA beat Temple in the EagleBank Bowl in December! Also home of D.C. United.

Churches I've Been To So Far:

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24 January 2010

St. Joseph's Church on Capitol Hill

Before I came to GW, I met a few people on Facebook who were incoming freshman like myself. In most cases, nothing really came out of these initial acquaintances. One of them, however, Dan, saw this blog and became interested in this project. We had previously discussed faith and politics, and he told me he’d like to come along for one of my visits some day. I told him to pick the church, and then we would go. He picked St. Joseph’s, just a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol building. We had heard rumors that congressman and other government officials attended Mass there, and being political junkies, we couldn’t resist.

St. Joseph’s is very similar in look and feel to the other Downtown Catholic Churches (St. Dominic and St. Patrick, for example). I might even go so far as to say that it’s really a prototype for the other churches in the area and in the district as a whole. The church was built in a neo-Gothic (I’m not sure if that’s the proper term, but what I mean is that it has many of the same architectural features of a Gothic Cathedral) style, incorporating columns, arches and stained glass. Lying around in the pews were the church’s brochures, which touted their heritage, dating back to the Civil War, and asked for help in a multi-million dollar campaign to renovate their facilities.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus goes to Galilee and proclaims that he has arrived to fulfill the prophecy of the Old Testament. In his homily, Msgr. Charles discussed Jesus’s proclamation of the “good news” of salvation, and how happy the people must have been to hear this news (Actually, after Jesus proclaims that he is fulfilling the prophecy, the people of the synagogue try to run him out of town and throw him down a mountain, but I understand what he was getting at). He talked about how we still see examples of acts that build up God’s kingdom and proclaim the good news of salvation, for example, by helping the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

At the end of the Mass, a nun from the Little Sisters of the Poor came and asked for help. She and the other Little Sisters are part of a worldwide organization that provides shelter and care for the elderly poor at their many residences. She shared a story about a man who they almost took into their residence who passed away. He had no friends or relatives, but they held a funeral for him anyway. They buried him in the only grave plot they owned, and after they did so, they received unsolicited donations for over a dozen graves. I'll take a nun over a politician any day.

St. Joseph's Website
Little Sisters of the Poor, Washington, D.C.


Churches I've Been To So Far

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17 January 2010

Shrine of the Sacred Heart (Santuario del Sagrado Corazon)

Well, this was a sad week, as the Catholics of the world turned their attention to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. With that in mind, I planned to attend Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in the evening, because they offer a Mass in Haitian Creole. During the week, however, I read in the Washington Post that the priest who leads the Mass, Fr. Arsene Jasmin, had left for Haiti on Monday, and had not been heard from since then. I wasn’t sure if they were still going to have the Creole Mass, so I decided to go to one of the morning masses, delivered in Spanish. My suitemate, Loreto, and I headed out early for the 8 AM Mass. (At the beginning of the Mass, the priest discussed Haiti and Fr. Jasmin. My Spanish is not perfect, but I believe he said that they had heard from Fr. Jasmin and that he was all right.)

Shrine of the Sacred Heart is located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, in North-Central Washington, D.C. Columbia Heights is named after the Columbian College, which was located in the neighborhood in the 1800’s. Columbian College later moved to Foggy Bottom and became The George Washington University. Sacred Heart is located on a stretch of 16th Street famous for its many Protestant churches. Legend says that the Protestants tried to keep the Catholics away from the main drag for many years. Sacred Heart was built in the early twentieth century and caters to the large Hispanic population in Columbia Heights.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t think this Church would be much. I had seen pictures of the building, but I wasn’t that impressed. Upon arrival, I realized that the church was a lot larger and more elaborate than I expected it to be. The building itself was massive, with a central focus on an elaborate housing for the crucifix located behind the altar. The building was capped by a large dome, and the altar was flanked by shrines dedicated to Jesus and the Virgin Mary. It reminded me a lot of a miniature version of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Great Shrines think alike.

Once again, I was challenged to listen to Mass in another language. I took Spanish in high school, so I could understand this service a little better than the Italian Mass at Holy Rosary. The priest’s opening remarks touched on the earthquake in Haiti, and the coming Martin Luther King holiday. He called on the congregation to remember the changes that Dr. King brought to the United States.

While I expected more traditional music in such an elaborate space, the band sounded a lot like a Spanish light-rock band. The cantor had a good, steady voice, and was accompanied by acoustic guitar, keyboard, percussion, and background vocalists. I think it is an interesting choice of music, one that brings new energy into what seems like an ancient place of worship.

I couldn’t really understand the readings, but I figured out what the Gospel reading was during the deacon’s homily. I heard him talking about Jesus being “presented” at a “wedding,” so I figured it was the story of the feast at Cana. It is his first miracle: when all the wine at the wedding feast has been finished, Jesus tells the servants to fetch him some water, which transforms into wine. I heard the priest talking about “San Juan,” referring to John the Baptist, an “angel” and Jesus’ mother, so he was focusing on the first events of the New Testament. The homily turned into a discussion of the importance of family. Though a young person may just want to talk to their boyfriend or girlfriend all the time, he said, family should still come first. Then, he started making a food analogy that I could not comprehend. He started talking about “tortillas” and “mais (corn).” I’m not sure what he was trying to say, but I seem to think it was along the lines of, “If the tortilla is no good, don’t blame the corn.” Whether that’s correct, and what exactly that means is beyond me.

This was a pretty early Mass, and Loreto and I were both pretty tired. Apparently not as tired as the priest, though. The deacon was giving what appeared to be an engaging sermon. He was making broad gestures, varying his vocal tone to emphasize important points, and eliciting responses from the audience. About half way through the speech, I looked over at the priest, and he appeared to be looking down and squinting at something. When I looked again, I noticed him drifting a little more to the side, and I realized that he was SLEEPING!! Now, I’ll confess that over the years, I’ve had some struggles to stay awake during Mass, but I wasn’t up in front of everyone! A little embarassing for him, but I will judge not, that I may not be judged. It was an early Mass, and even priests sometimes don’t get enough sleep. A college student should be the last person to mock someone else for having abnormal sleep patterns.

Altogether, quite a surprising Mass. I didn’t expect such a large, beautiful church, and I didn’t expect such an impressive turnout for an 8AM Mass. I’m also glad I had a chance to explore Columbia Heights a little bit.

I’d love to see some comments. Let me know what you think about my project! Do I write too much? Too little? Anywhere you’d like me to go? And who exactly reads this anyway?

Statue of James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921) Archbishop of Baltimore, the second American ever to be declared a Cardinal. First Chancellor of Catholic University of America.

This is a map of all the churches I've visited so far. Click on the blue markers to see which church is located at that point.

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11 January 2010

St. Thomas Apostle Church

On Saturday evening, I returned to Washington from an enjoyable three weeks off from school. So naturally, on Sunday morning, I was right back in the swing of things, strolling through the deserted streets of downtown Washington, D.C. in search of another unknown Catholic parish. Oh, and by the way, it’s 30 degrees outside.

I figured I’d venture a little bit out of the core of the city, to St. Thomas Apostle Church, in the Woodley Park neighborhood. It’s a few miles north of the downtown area, about a block from the Woodley Park Metro stop (Red Line). It’s also not far from the National Zoo. (As I was walking through the neighborhood, a mother with children in tow asked me how to get to the zoo. I pointed her in the right direction, but why anyone would want to walk around all day in freezing temperatures to see a bunch of lazy pandas and monkeys is beyond me.)

St. Thomas Apostle isn’t a very large church, and it isn’t built in the pseudo-Gothic style that many of the other churches in the city are built in. My guess is that it was built in the 1950’s or 1960’s. Aesthetically, it looked like a mix between an office building and my aunt Mayme’s house. Check out my pictures for details.

The priest, Father Charles, was a black man who had recently immigrated to the United States. Judging by his accent, he was probably from somewhere in Africa. He was a little bit hard to understand sometimes, but for the most part I knew what he was saying (Though I giggled a little when he pronounced “humanity” “’oo-manity”). He was very animated, using broad, emphatic gestures to help articulate his message. His homily was both a discussion of the reading and a call to action. Today’s reading discussed the work of John the Baptist, who baptized people with water as a sort of “certification” of being a member of God’s chosen people, in preparation for the coming of Jesus. Father Charles said that now, our “certification” as members of the assembly of God is taking up the mission of evangelization. He said that he was disappointed when he heard that only 10% of D.C. residents were Catholic. He called upon the congregation to allow others to “see Christ in them,” and bring them into the Catholic Church.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Here’s something I should have posted before. This is the Google Maps page that I’ve compiled with every Church that I plan to visit. Click on the (+) and (-) signs to zoom in and out. Click on the markers to see which church is located at the marked location.

View Catholic Churches in Washington, D.C. in a larger map

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church (Valencia, CA)

As I've mentioned before, my home parish, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, recently finished construction on a new church building. I attended Christmas Mass, here's a few photos.