Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Easter: A time of renewal and unity

By Whitney Evans, Deseret News

Published: Sat, April 19 2:33 p.m. MDT

 Rachel To, 5, offers gifts of bread and wine during Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City Thursday, April 10, 2014.

Rachel To, 5, offers gifts of bread and wine during Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City Thursday, April 10, 2014.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — In the early 1990s a man who was terminally ill sought out his local pastor in San Francisco to find God, the Catholic church and the community.

"For him … the priest was a sign of unity. It was a means for him to reconnect," said the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, who was the pastor of the man's congregation at the time.

In the weeks before the man died, Bishop Wester helped him re-establish a positive relationship with his community and with God.

The bishop related the experience as he spoke to priests, deacons and congregants gathered together for the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, in anticipation of Holy Week. And it is an apt metaphor for Christians throughout the world during Easter who lose themselves in worship together as they point to Jesus Christ, regardless of their particular congregation or denomination.

"Remember He loves us each and calls us by name," Bishop Wester said at the beginning of the Mass.

The diversity in the worshipers was represented by Latino and Vietnamese Catholic congregations assembled together for the bilingual Chrism Mass, where all the holy oils that will be used during the year are blessed.

"Jesus is referred to as the Anointed One. That's an oil word," Bishop Wester said. With his anointing, Jesus set the oppressed free and cured blindness.

During Mass, it is easy to forget language or country of origin differences, said Karina Del Castillo, assistant of Hispanic ministry at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

"We live in the same faith in that moment," she said. "The same faith. The same feelings."

Del Castillo, who was raised in Argentina and Peru, said it doesn't matter to her what language Mass is spoken in, because it always gives her a chance to pray, meditate and be in community with other people.

"I feel a lot of things because you can feel God in everyone. In the people. In the Mass," she said. "When you're feeling those kind of things, your life is like a piece of heaven."

Martin Alcocer, who was raised in Mexico and later moved to the United States, appreciated the bilingual Chrism Mass because it allowed him to worship in the same language in which he learned to pray.

"Whenever you go to pray, in my case, I feel more comfortable or I feel better if I pray in Spanish, in my language."

However, he recognized the importance of being together with others who speak other languages.

"It doesn't matter if you are Asian or Latino or Caucasian. Everybody is a part of one big community. It doesn't matter that we are different. We have many things in common, and we get together to celebrate the things that we have in common," he said.

Latinos are the largest minority group in the state, making up 13.3 percent of Utah's population and 16.9 percent of the United States population, according to 2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Latinos comprise about one-third of U.S. Catholics.

Catholicism is the religion that most U.S. Hispanics identify with, according to a Gallup poll conducted between January 2012 and January 2013. Catholicism draws in 47 percent of those 18 to 29, 56 percent of those 30 to 49, 60 percent of ages 50 to 64 and 61 percent of those 65 and older. Protestant Christians are next most common, attracting 29 percent of those 18 to 29 and 27 percent of those 30 and older.

Latinos make up a smaller but growing segment of the LDS Church in the United States, comprising about 7 percent of the church's membership, or just shy of 450,000 people, according to Pew.

For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Easter often falls on or near the church's spring general conference, held on the first weekend of April. Members from around the world gather to hear from LDS Church leaders who often use the Easter season to talk about the meaning of Jesus' suffering and resurrection. This year was no exception:

"Today, some believe in the literal Resurrection of Christ, and many doubt or disbelieve. But some know. In due course, all will see and all will know; indeed, 'every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him,'" Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said in conference, quotng a passage in the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants.

Although Latter-day Saints do not formally celebrate Holy Week, they often find other ways to commemorate the Easter season and share the Easter message with others.

This year the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is performing a full production of Handel's "Messiah." In another effort to spread the message of Easter to all, the LDS Church created the online "Because of Him" initiative. The page included an instrumental video about the life of Jesus, information about his life and the opportunity to speak with those in the faith about Jesus.

Personal expressions also abound in family gatherings on this day.

Easter is "a renewal time" for LDS Church member Gloria Holmstead of Salt Lake City. She uses it as a time to gather her family, reflect on Easter and remind herself and others that "life can be renewed," because of the Savior's sacrifice, she said.

This year an Episcopal congregation in West Valley is also working to make sure all can worship comfortably.

"Worship in particular … speaking to God, asking things of God, bringing your heart to God, I mean, that's something that you have to do in your own language," said the Rev. Matt Seddon.

He leads the St. Stephen's Episcopal congregation in West Valley and works with the Rev. Pablo Ramos, who is head of the San Esteban congregation that meets at the same location, to determine when and if they should merge their congregations.

They agreed that Lent and Easter are important enough holidays for bilingual services.

Seddon, who is fluent in English and Spanish, acts as a "bridge" between the English and Spanish parishes. Combining congregants of different backgrounds has not always been easy, he said, but it is vital for congregants to "see the cross from a different place."

Friday was the first time the two congregations came together for Good Friday worship. Ramos delivered the sermon and Seddon interpreted what he said every few minutes.

"I would hope that even being able to simply see that this is a meaningful story to folks who have a very different experience of suffering, you know, and can take hope from it, can help us take hope from it," he said.

The sanctuary at St. Stephen's shows evidence of the blending of the two cultures, including a 4-foot-tall statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a symbol revered by Catholics and other Christians worldwide.

It is important for people to worship in their own language, but it is just as important to build up the diverse kingdom of God as described in the Bible's book of Revelation, Seddon said.

"Diversity or other cultures doesn't mean you give up who you are. That isn't the point. I'm not asking my Anglo congregation to give up their culture and who they are. It's a matter of appreciating and having your vision expanded by other cultures and other ways of seeing the world," he said.

Pastor Jim Ayers of LifeChurch said that his services draw about 1,000 people. People hail from India, African nations and parts of Asia. Almost as many Hispanic people show up to services as do whites.

"I have just really felt that the other cultures have benefited us tremendously," he said.

LifeChurch is a branch of the Assemblies of God faith. The church offers what he describes as contemporary service with drums, guitars and keyboards. The expressions of worship of other cultures "brought life in and they're helping us stoic Anglos," he said.

He also spoke about the description in Revelation 7:9 of heaven as a place that that includes all nations, languages and people. Because his congregation reflects this, worship services are "a little piece of heaven here on Earth," he said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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