From many nations, one home

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

Jernelle JnoBaptiste and Jose Rodrigo Quezada pose before Rodrigo’s Confirmation Mass at the Midwestern State University Catholic Campus Center in Wichita Falls, March 3, 2019.Jernelle JnoBaptiste and Jose Rodrigo Quezada pose before Rodrigo’s Confirmation Mass at the Midwestern State University Catholic Campus Center in Wichita Falls, March 3, 2019.
Jernelle JnoBaptiste and Jose Rodrigo Quezada pose before Rodrigo’s Confirmation Mass at the Midwestern State University Catholic Campus Center in Wichita Falls, March 3, 2019. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)


Jernelle JnoBaptiste made plans to leave her native Dominica to study at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, certain she was on the path that God had arranged. Because doors opened and a scholarship materialized, she felt affirmed that the dream she had nurtured since she was nine was part of God’s plan for her.

Jernelle, who calls herself “deeply rooted in faith,” volunteered in her home parish in Dominica and helped with youth ministry. She planned to continue practicing her faith in her new residence 2,600 miles from her Caribbean island home. With online research, she found four Catholic parishes in Wichita Falls and bus routes that would take her around the city.

But the buses didn’t run on weekends. 

So, despite feeling “overwhelmed” when she arrived in Wichita Falls, she ventured on foot her first Sunday morning in the August heat to find the nearest Catholic church. While walking, an acquaintance spotted her and stopped, driving her instead to a nondenominational church attended by many Caribbean students. Jernelle enjoyed the music and the fellowship, but the service wasn’t the same.

A week later, Jernelle learned about the Catholic Campus Center at Midwestern State University. “I started crying. I found someplace to call my ‘faith home,’” she remembered.

For Jernelle, and thousands like her in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Catholic Church provides a faith home — a place to worship the one true God in one universal Church, despite the distance and differences in language and culture.

Long before Pope Paul VI established the Diocese of Fort Worth on August 9, 1969, the 28 counties of North Texas were a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. Spanish explorers arrived 500 years ago, and French missionaries later blazed trails through North Texas. Through the years, settlers from Germany, Poland, Ireland, China, Mexico, Hungary, and Vietnam put down roots in the area, fleeing war, famine, or persecution and seeking education and employment.

Fr. Peter Opoku-Ware celebrates Mass for the Ghana Catholic Community at St. Joseph Parish in Arlington.
Fr. Peter Opoku-Ware celebrates Mass for the Ghana Catholic Community at St. Joseph Parish in Arlington. Each week, Mass is celebrated in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Twi, Ukrainian, and Latin in our diocese. (NTC/Ben Torres)

The Catholic Campus Center at Midwestern State University that Jernelle was elated to discover is a microcosm of the Diocese of Fort Worth. In an average semester, students from at least 15 countries attend Mass, meals, devotions, and retreats at the building on the edge of campus.

While attending MSU, Rodrigo Quezada, a Guatemalan, attended classes to prepare for Confirmation. He described the variety of nationals that assembled at the center to learn more about Catholicism — “students from Nigeria, Honduras, Dominica, Granada, the Bahamas, Vietnam, and the U.S.”

After all, catholic means universal, and the Diocese of Fort Worth is blessed to represent the universal Church. 

The diversity strengthens the diocese and reminds parishioners of the universality of the Church, according to Father Balaji Boyalla, SAC, the pastor of St. Michael Parish in Bedford, which is a diverse parish with faithful hailing from more than 20 countries.

Fr. Boyalla, himself a native of India, said, “Different cultures make us think. Although we are from different countries, and we bring different languages, and we bring different cultures, we worship the same God.

“It’s like we are a family. The same parents will have different children. Each one thinks differently, acts differently, has different ideas on what to achieve. But the variety brings something bright and colorful to the family,” he continued, comparing the family of God to a nuclear family.

Pope Francis also compared the universal Church to a family, stating in a 2013 address to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, “Indeed, we are a single human family that is journeying on toward unity, making the most of solidarity and dialogue among peoples in the multiplicity of differences.”

The diverse congregation at St. Michael Parish includes at least 50 families from Tonga, according to Deacon Sangote U’lupano, who came to the U.S. from the Pacific Island nation in 1980.

Immigrants to the parish strike a balance between honoring their cultural traditions and assimilating into the new country. The parish’s Tongan choir sings at Mass monthly, and a Tongan priest celebrates Mass annually. 

Deacon U’lupano explained, “I always talk to them [other Tongan immigrants] that we are one people, one Church. We don’t try to isolate from the community, from the parish. This is our parish. This is our home. We are the same people.”

One Church, One Mass

Sister Maria Chu (left) and Sister Theresa Tran belong to Lovers of the Holy Cross, a religious order based in Vietnam.  Sister Maria Chu (left) and Sister Theresa Tran belong to Lovers of the Holy Cross, a religious order based in Vietnam.
Sister Maria Chu (left) and Sister Theresa Tran belong to Lovers of the Holy Cross, a religious order based in Vietnam.  After coming to the U.S. to study theology, they were assigned to Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington. (NTC/Jayme Donahue)


One benefit to belonging to the universal Church is the constancy of Mass. Even in a foreign land, a visitor can identify what’s happening during the liturgy.

Still, sometimes a touch of the old country is helpful.

“Hearing the liturgy and readings in your first language may help you understand the meaning more deeply. You might feel more at home if you can hear or read along in your mother tongue,” said Sister Theresa Tran, LHC. 

She and Sister Maria Chu, LHC, serve at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington, overseeing religious education with 74 volunteer catechists. With more than 1,600 families, the parish offers two daily Masses and four weekend Masses in Vietnamese.

Language was a big barrier for Emma Uwaniyigena when she and her husband fled Rwanda in 2006. Uwaniyigena spoke three languages, but “learning English as a grown-up was hard,” she recalled.

A woman from Kenya whose husband was a Baptist pastor befriended the refugee and invited them to his church.

Uwaniyigena visited a few times, but she found “Catholics have a unique faith. I can’t forget the Virgin Mary. I can’t forget the Rosary. I don’t know any other denomination who does that.”

Uwaniyigena attended a few Catholic parishes, and eventually she and her husband settled at Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth. Although her English was rudimentary at the outset, she said that during Mass “I can’t get lost.”

Reconciliation, however, was something else. Her first year, she didn’t seek the sacrament of forgiveness because she hadn’t mastered the Act of Contrition in English. As her English improved, she approached Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, then pastor of Our Mother of Mercy, and asked him if she could say the Act of Contrition in Kinyarwanda or French. The kind priest consented, of course. “I had gone the whole year without the sacrament,” she remembered. “I didn’t know what to do.” 

Bridging the gap between her home country and her new home, Uwaniyigena has organized a twice-monthly Rosary for Rwandan refugees. She appreciates the periodic Mass for Africa or the occasions when a visiting priest can celebrate Mass in her native tongue.

St. John the Apostle catechist Carlos Reyes holds a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (NTC/Ben Torres)St. John the Apostle catechist Carlos Reyes holds a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (NTC/Ben Torres)
St. John the Apostle catechist Carlos Reyes holds a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (NTC/Ben Torres)


Carlos Reyes, who escaped the civil war in El Salvador and came to the U.S. as a teenager, has found a faith home in the multicultural congregation at St. John the Apostle Parish in North Richland Hills. A special moment for him is giving the sign of peace to parishioners who originate from Africa or Asia and knowing that they are united by the love of God. 

Reyes said, “It’s rich. The one you have next to you, it doesn’t matter what color, you don’t know what language he’s speaking. That’s beautiful. It’s the love of God in His children.”

What brings a person from the other side of the world to seek a Catholic church in their new country? And why are they welcomed home?

Reyes explained animatedly, “The Eucharist is the center. . . . If he’s there for the Eucharist, he’s thinking the same way that I’m thinking. He knows the Eucharist — that it’s Jesus right there. We get together as a community with the same goal, the same desire to receive the Body of Christ all together.”

But Reyes cautioned that receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is not enough. “We are there to receive His Body and His Blood, but also to go out and share [the faith],” he said. 

Reyes has done just that. About a dozen years ago, he began sharing his faith as a Cursillista and as a Spanish-language catechist for the parish, which offers RCIA, sacramental preparation, and adult faith education in Spanish for more than 300 parishioners. In January, Reyes was recognized as Catechist of the Year by Catechist magazine for teaching multiple classes, plus recruiting and training other catechists. He has found prospective catechists may feel inadequate, but he reassures them that they will receive the necessary knowledge from God if they will give Him their service. 

Although she grew up around the world from Reyes, Sister Theresa from Vietnamese Martyrs Parish agrees that the Eucharist holds us together, then sends us forth. “We come to Mass not by ourselves but in community. We are on a journey of faith, and we help each other on the journey,” she said. “For the sake of the people, we go to show the love of God.”

The geographic diversity of the diocese is a tangible example of the Communion of Saints, according to Sister Theresa. Distance does not separate us, whether the gap is measured in time or in miles.

A few years ago, the sister left her religious order and her family, traveling 8,600 miles to come alone to a country where she didn’t speak the language. Attending daily Mass was a solace to Sister Theresa, for she understood “we are separated physically, but united in prayer and spirit. Being Catholic makes us one.” 

Jernelle JnoBaptiste and Jose Rodrigo Quezada

Jernelle JnoBaptiste made plans to leave her native Dominica to study at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, certain she was on the path that God had arranged.

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