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Welcoming first African pastor

Posted By March 6, 2015 | 6:42 pm | Featured Article #3

By Tanya Connor

LUNENBURG – The installation of the Diocese’s first African pastor packed his church with appreciative parishioners and supporters from his previous assignments last weekend.
Father Anthony Mpagi received a standing ovation at Saturday’s vigil Mass at St. Boniface Parish. As part of the rite of installation, Bishop McManus had just made an official announcement that he intended to appoint Father Mpagi pastor. The rite continued with Father Mpagi leading the congregation in reciting The Creed and taking the pastors’ oath.
Joining in the applause were Bishop McManus, St. Boniface’s parishioners and deacon, Deacon Anthony Fiore; African priests, priests under whom Father Mpagi had served, and the African choir from St. Peter Parish/St. Andrew the Apostle Mission in Worcester.     The Diocesan African Ministry is headquartered at St. Peter’s. Father Mpagi was its chaplain before being appointed St. Boniface’s associate pastor last July. At that time Father Dennis J. O’Brien, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Leominster, became St. Boniface’s administrator, a job he was relieved of with Father Mpagi’s appointment as pastor, effective Feb. 28.
Father O’Brien told the congregation that Father Mpagi had come a long way – from Uganda – to serve at St. Boniface. (In 2006 Father Mpagi was ordained the Worcester Diocese’s first African priest. Among those attending his installation were Kizito Kalemba Kimera, one of his 14 siblings, who now lives in Oakland, Calif., and  nephew and niece Joshua and Jaydeen Kasule of Tewksbury.)
Father Eric K. Asante, the Ghanaian who is now chaplain of the African Ministry, told The Catholic Free Press that Saturday’s celebration was a demonstration of the Church’s unity, universality and diversity.
“We are all children of God,” he said. “In the eyes of God there’s no black, there’s no white, there’s no Hispanic. So today shows we are united in God.”
And the African Ministry’s participation in Mass, including their dance up the aisle with the Lectionary, showed how different groups bring their rich culture into the liturgy, he said.
He noted that, in the United States, historically Africans have not been leaders. He said Father Mpagi commented that St. Boniface welcomed him and did not treat him differently, but as their shepherd.
“He brings a lot of vitality and energy to this parish,” said Loretta DiPietro, St. Boniface’s director of religious education.
“He’s very compassionate, very prayerful. The fact that people stood up to applaud him, to me it was a show of support and acceptance.”
She said one woman told Father Mpagi, “We’re so happy that you like us.”
“And we all like him too,” Mrs. DiPietro added. “The kids are getting to know him. … They’re very comfortable being with him.” She said teenaged parishioners even talk about him at their public high school.
“This was a great celebration,” she said. “The church was filled to capacity.” She said she enjoyed her first attempt at traditional African dancing and singing at the reception afterwards, and tried to learn some of the words.
“I think this is monumental, because … the Church is changing,” she said. “I thought the mix of cultures was just great.”
Carolyn Farley, a member of St. Boniface’s choir, said she loved the combination of cultures; it was new and exciting for them. Their choir and St. Peter’s/St. Andrew’s African choir, including a group of children from the latter, helped provide music.
“I think he saved our parish,” said Jeanne Raboin, another St. Boniface choir member. “He’s a blessing spiritually.”
In homilies, his approach is, “What is the Gospel saying to you and to me?” said parishioner Joseph Simoneau. “It makes our faith much more relevant.” He also commented on “the way he approaches the Eucharist – very solemn.”
“He has to rebuild this parish,” he said of Father Mpagi’s task of bringing people back to church. “It’s not St. Boniface. It’s the culture. I see him reaching out. He’s very personable. … It comes from his heart.”
“He has the heart and soul for serving people,” said Joyce Mbachi, of St. Andrew’s. She said about 50 of the people from St. Andrew’s came for the installation.
“It was just a wonderful occasion,” said Janet Sacco, a St. Boniface parishioner for more than 50 years. She said she liked the music and the turnout.
“Seems I always run into somebody who knows him and loves him,” she said.
“Pray for Father Anthony and love him as you would love Christ himself,” Bishop McManus told parishioners during his homily. He told Father Mpagi to love parishioners the same way and “show your people the beautiful face of Jesus and lead your people home to heaven.”
A pastor will give his life for parishioners in imitation of the Good Shepherd and has the grave responsibility of bringing them to salvation, the Bishop said.
“He will minister to your families because now he has become a member of your family,” he said.
The Bishop spoke of the declining number of Catholics attending Mass and called for ending the practice of “religious ‘live and let live.’” The Apostles went to their deaths to share the faith, and people today cannot sit back, he said.
“It’s a question of salvation; it’s a question of knowing, loving and serving God,” he said. He challenged parishioners to share their faith and invite those absent back to the Lord’s table.
“We miss them,” he said.
Father Mpagi thanked those who participated in the Mass, including members of his family and the extended African family, and said the bishop’s coming gives the parish confidence. The congregation then stood and applauded again.


From Uganda to the U.S.

Father Anthony Mpagi, the first African ordained a priest for the Worcester Diocese, became pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Lunenburg Saturday.
He was born Aug. 1, 1972 in Nsambya, Uganda. He is one of 15 children of Jane Nakitto Mwebe and the late Josephat K. Mwebe. His home parish was Christ the King in Kampala.
He studied at Kisubi Minor Seminary in Kisubi and St. Mbaaga Major Seminary in Ggaba, both in Uganda, and Pontifical Urban University in Rome and St. John’s Seminary in Brighton.
While studying in Rome, he came to the United States to visit his brother Jonathan Kasule in Woburn and classmates in Columbus, Ohio.
In 2001 he moved to the Boston area, where his brother helped him become a certified nursing assistant. He said he came in part to learn how laity are trained for ministry, hoping to take that back home. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he realized he might not be allowed to re-enter the United States if he left.
Still thinking about a priestly vocation, he sought a ministry job and became director of religious education at St. James Parish in South Grafton. Over time, he decided he wanted to be a priest in the Worcester Diocese.
Bishop McManus ordain– ed him a priest for the Diocese June 3, 2006, the feast of the Ugandan martyrs.
He became associate pastor of St. Joan of Arc and St. Bernard parishes in Worcester July 1, 2006. In 2009 he became associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Worcester and chaplain of the diocesan African Ministry, headquartered there. In 2011 he was made full-time chaplain of the African Ministry, with residence at St. Joseph Parish in Leicester.
He was named associate pastor of St. Boniface last July and pastor Feb. 28.