Feeling at home at Mass

“If you ever have any problems on the road, remember, you can always go to a church.” That advice was given to us by someone we met in Christchurch and it got me to thinking, no matter where we’ve gone in the world, regardless of the language of the local people, we always felt “connected.”

This trip was no different. We saw many beautiful churches, synagogues and mosques but going to Mass was special. That hour each week connected us to the locals, our fellow travelers and the world at large.

For the most part, the prayer responses were always up on a screen, making it easy to follow along. (We’ve seen that occasionally at home and it makes so much sense. Why waste paper printing it out each week?) Participation and size of the crowd varied. Some sermons were better than others.

In Australia, our usual parish was Sacred Heart Mission, just down the street. It was an older church and had a small congregation — everyone seemed to know everyone. Although we were the ‘strangers,’ no one asked us who we were or where we came from but that was OK. We were happy to anonymously watch the middle-aged lady run the liturgy like a general, positioning the small choir, complaining when the pianist arrived late and correcting the older priest if he missed something. There was a young blind woman, whom they all seemed very protective of, who read the readings by braille. The hymns were older and traditional.

We also attended large cathedrals in Melbourne and Adelaide. Again there were fewer people and voices echoed in the cavernous spaces. A suburban church in Melbourne had more kids but, overall, we didn’t find that the Australian parishioners or their pastors were overly enthusiastic.

New Zealand was better. There were many more people at masses – the typical older people with a lot of young families – and the participation was livelier. Although the Mass was in English, on the North Island, we were delighted to hear many hymns sung in the Maori language by whites and Maoris together. The schools teach both languages to help preserve the Maori culture. We went to many different churches on the South Island and will never forget the eeriness of experiencing an earthquake at Christmas Eve Mass. Again the music was more traditional and the Christmas hymns the same. New Zealanders were much more curious about the “new people” in church, often asking us for our story.

But South Africa? That’s where we found the most spiritual enthusiasm. We attended a couple different churches, with two being especially memorable. St. Patrick’s in Port Elizabeth was in an upscale, beachside suburb. When we arrived, many people surrounded us but the small church was dark. The “load shedding,” however, did not dampen the spirit of the congregation. Although the organ was silenced and the priest had to shout (in broken English) without a microphone, the congregation was one of the most engaged of any we had encountered. In Johannesburg, at Our Lady of the Wayside Maryvale, we were treated to the choir of “church ladies” who sang like angels! That and seeing the women and children dressed in their Sunday finest really made Sunday mass feel like a special occasion, which it was for us as it was the last of our adventure and a truly beautiful “send-off!”

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