While "Gather, Bless and Share" may be the subtitle of the Oct. 13 Cathedral Unity Festival during the Diocese of Oakland's 50th anniversary celebration, there appears to be an emphasis on what a blessing ethnic ministries have been to the people of the diocese.
Representatives of the communities planning the day's festivities count among their blessings the Most Rev. John S. Cummins, the second bishop of Oakland, and Sister Felicia Sarati, CSJ, the director of ethnic pastoral and cultural centers.
"This is a very special occasion," said Joseph Seto, a member of the planning committee, "because it's part of the 50th anniversary of the diocese."
The day will begin with a procession and prayer service in the cathedral, followed by ethnic food and entertainment on the plaza.
Seto, who has been a part of the Chinese Pastoral Center at St. Leo's for 25 years and a longtime participant in the diocese's Chautauqua ethnic celebrations, said he sees the Cathedral Unity festival as a "similar multicultural celebration, to celebrate diversity within the diocese."
He also sees it as an opportunity to express gratitude. "We want to thank Bishop Cummins, who had the vision as the bishop and his appointee, Father George Mockel, for naming Sister Felicia" to her role in ethnic ministry.
Bishop Cummins, he said, "recognized in the late '70s and '80s, that Oakland was experiencing a tremendous incoming of immigrants from all parts of the world."
"Many of them were Catholic," Seto said, "but they often found it difficult, because of the availability of a priest and parish using their home language."
While "it is good for assimilation to blend into American culture, one might argue that some special cultural treasures and some identity might have been lost," Seto said.
"We are glad Bishop Cummins had the vision to set up something to retain cultural values and at the same time be part of the diocese, so we could continue tradition in a Catholic way."
Then, Seto said, there was another vision.
"Maybe we can get together," Seto said. "The Polish are doing their thing, the Chinese doing their thing … let's get together to worship one God, many different tongues.
"I remember the pastoral centers in the '70s. but we did not come together until the '90s when we held the first Chautauqua."
The Chinese Catholic community, for example, celebrates in four places, with Masses in Cantonese at St. Leo in Oakland and Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City; and two in Mandarin at St. Joseph in Fremont and St. John the Baptist in El Cerrito.
"Father Thomas Ng was the catalyst," Seto said. Father Ng understood that "having people come from Fremont to Union City to Oakland would be something of a hardship. He was willing to go there."
"There" meant four churches in four cities.
"Father Paul Chen continues the tradition," Seto said. "He picked up the baton and he runs with it."
To the Chautauqua events, "each group brings a piece of their culture to proudly display." In addition, there's a little cultural exchange.
The pilgrimage, Seto said, has an important meaning. "We all come from different parts of the world, but we come together and march into one holy church."
Inside the cathedral for the Unity event, the diverse voices will be heard in prayer and song, said Ariel Mayormita, who is directing the music for this year's Unity Festival prayer service.
And like multicultural events of the past, food will play an important role at the festival. "We all get to taste a little bit of everybody's culture," Seto said.
Siony Palacios, a parishioner at St. Anne Church in Union City, remembers Sister Felicia's early work with the ethnic ministries in the diocese.
"The first group she started was the St. Anne Filipino Group," Palacios recalled. Palacios has particularly fond memories of the annual Filipino Thanksgiving Mass at St. Anne.
"Sister is a big asset to the diocese," Palacios said.
In addition to her work as an emcee for performances that included Filipino, Vietnamese and Mexican dancers, as well as Korean drummers, on the Cathedral Plaza before the Jubilee Mass on Aug. 22, Palacios said she is looking forward to the gathering on Oct. 13.
Like the Chautauqua celebrations of years past, she said, "They will come from all over."
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