Annual Homelands Mass
Two of the works of sacred art sculpted by Louis-Philippe Hébert for Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral speak to the Twelfth Day of Christmas. We celebrate the Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus to the Gentile nations represented by the Magi, the astronomer wise men from the East.
On the far right of the high altar are the Nativity of Jesus and the shepherds who have come to see the newborn king announced by the angels. Elsewhere, there are figures of royalty from different ethnicities, perhaps representing the Magi.
Anachronistically, there appear men and women of missionary orders who helped take the faith to the entire world. There are also mothers and children learning in the home from Jesus as he gives the Sermon on the Mount.
Hébert was conveying that when two or three Christians gather to share their faith, the glorified and risen Christ is there among them, instructing them through the Holy Spirit the truths of God and the ways of righteous conduct.
The feast of the Epiphany or “Manifestation” celebrates the peoples of the world coming to know God’s Son as their Saviour.
On Sunday afternoon, January 20, Ottawa Catholics will give expression to the diversity of the nations that celebrate a common faith in our colourful, annual Homelands Mass in our Cathedral. We do so as the issue of migration is hotly disputed in Canada where we struggle to decide whether asylum claimants who cross non-designated points of entry should be termed “illegal” or “irregular.”
The Ottawa archdiocese is proudly bilingual, with 40 francophone parishes, 50 predominantly English parishes, and some 15 parishes for ethnic linguistic communities, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Italian, and Croatian. As well, Filipinos gather to worship in their dialects, as do the Haitians in Creole, the Nigerians, Congolese, Malagasy, and Burundians.
Led by our Indigenous Catholics, the multicultural Mass brings together everyone, dressed in native costume, for a colourful, multilingual liturgy.
The day emphasizes the universal character of the church. However, the tensions surrounding immigration issues remain a reality.
Canada is experiencing an influx of people coming through the United States. They are not Americans and they are afraid they are going to be expelled. They are technically illegal, but our government is welcoming. The numbers aren’t frightening.
Encountering strangers in any context provides both a challenge and an opportunity for Christians.
Strangers are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes, I don’t see it. I’m too preoccupied with my own needs and irritations. Christ says that he is in the stranger, the naked, the street person, the immigrant. I need to see Christ in them.
Visiting the different ethnic churches in my diocese stretches me. I may not initially understand a particular linguistic or ethnic group. It may even take some time in prayer to appreciate the spiritual treasures there.
I see the joy the Hispanics have in celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe. The French can be more spontaneous, the English more reserved, the Nigerians more colourful in dress and song. I can choose to be turned off by the differences, or I can be enriched.
In Canada, we speak of integration rather than assimilation; a mosaic rather than a melting pot.
Leonardo da Vinci depicted the Epiphany in his “Adoration of the Magi,” which offers not just a foreground, but also a background. Behind the Magi and Jesus are buildings in ruin and mounted soldiers in combat. The world suffers from chaos and decay. By God’s grace, we can set relationships right.
Similarly, our Homelands Mass offers reasons for hope and for joy in our diversity—in counterpoint to our world of turmoil.