St. Philip Benizi Celebrates Its International Diversity
Published: October 9, 2008
Parishioners participate in the opening procession of the 10th annual multicultural Mass and festival at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro. Some 40 different countries were represented at the Sept. 27 celebration. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
JONESBORO—Hundreds savored a feast of food from around the world as people at St. Philip Benizi Church reveled in its 10th annual multicultural celebration.
Booths from 30 nationalities covered the grounds of the parish: shepherd’s pie from Ireland, kartofelsalat from Germany, tamales from Mexico, jerk chicken from Jamaica, hamburgers from the United States. A mariachi band played a cover of “Ring of Fire.” Dancers from Haiti, Nigeria and Panama would share the spotlight.
Joyce Chandy, 39, a high school science teacher, dressed in an elegant pink sari from her native India. She moved to Georgia during the summer from India to start a three-year teaching stint and recently found the parish.
“I didn’t expect this many communities to come together and be one community. And now the food looks very tempting,” she said, adding how the different languages and choirs added to the Mass celebration.
Saturday, Sept. 27, was the annual celebration. What once attracted 300 guests today draws 1,200. It takes nearly 300 volunteers to pull off the day. Cooks were each asked to prepare enough food to serve 50 people.
Franciscan Father Greg Hartmayer, the pastor, told the standing room only crowd in the church that each culture adds to community.
“We not only celebrate what brings us together in a strong and caring community, but also celebrate the differences among us, our different cultures, our different languages, our different traditions, our different journeys. We should not hide our customs and traditions,” he said.
Joyce Chandy of India participates in her first multicultural Mass at St. Philip Benizi Church. Chandy, a native of India, came to the United States this past July and she teaches science at Lovejoy High School, Hampton.
Living as a “community of communities” strengthens the parish, Father Hartmayer said.
Worshippers streamed into the church dressed in traditional clothing, from cowboy hats to colorful wraps. Leading the parade were the yellow and white flag of the Vatican state and the red, white and blue of the United States. Six flags followed, red to represent North America, blue for South America, yellow for Europe, white for Oceania/Antarctica, black for Asia and green for Africa.
Kathy Cirincione, the organizer for the past several years, said each of the cooks takes pride in preparing a homemade dish to share.
“They are so proud of what they have done and each country is representing just a little piece of themselves. I think that’s important,” she said.
Rafael Flores, 45, a landscaper, stood behind the table heavy with Mexican dishes. In just moments, a long line of hungry worshippers would get plates full of beans, tamales, peppers.
Flores, a parishioner for nearly 20 years, said the festival is so successful because everyone loves trying new food and it is a fun way to learn about other cultures.
Anne Healy, 43, who works for a nonprofit, had prepared Irish staples, stew and shepherd’s pie.
“At the end of the evening, it’s gone. That’s a good thing,” said the Irish native.
A longtime member of the parish, Healy said her family enjoys the diversity of culture at the church.
“We really love the community. It’s a very diverse community,” she said. “There’s a great spirit here and it’s like family here.”
(Clockwise, from left) Vietnamese teens Michelle Ha and Jone Pham hang out with African-American teen Adam Bowens during the 10th annual multicultural festival.
Sue Nemchick stands before the Slovak booth, one of many food stations that were available to people following Mass.
Franciscan Father Gregory Hartmayer, pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, standing at the altar, is joined by his brother clergy in the sanctuary during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Kathy Cirincione, left, parish director of activities, has coordinated the multicultural festival for nine of the 10 years. John Bush, the parish facilities manager, helps with the set up.
Pedro Cartagena, far right, helps Anna Nieves serve rice and chicken at the Puerto Rico booth.