SAN ANTONIO • The multi-ethnic Folklife Mass was held on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ on June 10 at the Hemisfair Park Fountain Plaza beneath the Tower of the Americas.
|Bishop Emeritus John W. Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo served as celebrant of the Folklife Mass June 10, with Msgr. Lawrence Stuebben as concelebrant. Choirs in traditional native attire provided the music for the liturgy, and persons representing various ethnic groups brought forward the gifts at the offertory.
Miguel Ramos | Today's Catholic
For many years it had been a tradition for the liturgy to be celebrated on the last day of the Texas Folklife Festival, held next door on the grounds of the Institute of Texan Cultures. The first Folklife Mass started in 1977 and continued unabated until 2003. The tradition resumed last year under the sponsorship of the Texas Catholic Conference on Community Ethnic Affairs.
Serving as celebrant was Bishop Emeritus John W. Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo, with Msgr. Lawrence J. Stuebben as concelebrant. Assisting were deacons Clifford Friesenhahn and Agustin Arismendez, with Sister Charlene Wedelich, CDP, and Richard R. Reyna of the Guadalupe Radio Network serving as lectors. Ushers were members of Bejar Chapter No. 56 of the Order of Alhambra.
The liturgy began with a procession of flags representing the Catholic ethnic groups of Texas, the United States of America, the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, flags of Texas, and ethnic group banners. Choirs in traditional native attire from Señyor Santo Niño de Cebú Church, Vietnamese Martyrs Church, and a Czech choir, as well as a Hispanic choir and mariachi singers, provided music for the Mass.
In an introductory greeting, Msgr. Stuebben said that San Antonio is blessed with wonderful people from a variety of backgrounds, each reflective of God’s own goodness, beauty and love. He thanked attendees for their participation in the Mass, along with expressing his gratitude for their continued support.
Bishop Emeritus Charles V. Grahmann of the Diocese of Dallas had originally been scheduled to be the homilist for the liturgy; however, he was unable to attend due to recent health issues. Instead, Bishop Yanta read the homily from Bishop Grahmann’s prepared text.
“From many lands, speaking different languages, formed by unique values and traditions, a variety of experiences of life, we gather at this yearly event, to celebrate who we are, from whence we came, why we or our ancestors came, to join a new enterprise,” he began.
The bishop asked: “What possessed these people that they make monumental sacrifices to leave family, possessions, a way of life behind, to make a dangerous journey to an almost unknown land?” He replied, “The answers may have their roots in many reasons: escape war, famine, suppressed dreams and hopes for life, or to fulfill a deep seated yearning for something more.”
And thus they came, the prelate noted, explaining that all of us are descendants of those making the journey, or perhaps ones who have just arrived. “The reason for coming remains the same.”
“One element that was among the possessions brought was not visible material things,” he said, “but it was strong devotion to faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he bequeathed to them.” He explained that one of the first endeavors of those ancestors was to build their houses of worship where they could gather to celebrate that faith and pass it on to their children and generations after them. “Deep acceptance and participation in that faith life is a gift they shared with us,” the retired ordinary added.
He described how people worked hard in this new land. The earth was very hostile. It needed cultivation and much work done in order to provide a livelihood for the immigrants. There were no tractors, machinery, gasoline, electricity, etc., which now is absolutely necessary to even eke out life. There were no doctors, no hospitals, no medicines. One had to concoct something or simply die. “But they never gave up. They lived in a free land. They studied, worked, had new ideas, experimented and, step by step, improved their lives and living conditions. And, they handed down this energy to generations after them. Thus,” he reminded the gathering, “we look back and make the connection. What we have today has its roots in the generations that went before us. Could this have happened in another land? Perhaps! But, the unique freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness that exists in this county made it possible to move ahead without restraint.”
The experience of this democracy has endured, the bishop emphasized. “But is there a guarantee that it will exist forever? Hardly!”
The prelate recounted that in history all 22 experiences of democracies in the world ended with death and destruction from within. None lasted. “Why now?” he asked. “History concludes that, in a free democratic society, people or groups of people used their freedom to exploit the system and drain from it. At any cost, whatever they could. They ate themselves up from within. No external forces conquered them.”
By the founding fathers, the bishop said, some given principles were established, non-negotiable, on which the nation was founded: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. They could not be democratically voted out without destroying the concept of a free nation. Laws were then enacted to guard these fundamental principles as lived out amongst the people.
Of late, he stressed, these principles are slowly being eaten away, crumbling, all in the name of freedom. “We have established a multitude of new rights flowing from these principles and we are enshrining them as the law of the land,” the prelate said. In another era, people tried slavery (1860’s), sterilization (1900), abortion (1972), same sex marriage (current), and a multitude of new rights. “For 235 years these new rights never existed. And they are tearing at the heart of this democracy” he lamented. “Will it go the way of the other democracies?”
The bishop detailed how the United States has acknowledged from its beginning that the nation was founded on a belief in God. “This was grounded in all deliberations and accepted as a given. ‘In God We Trust’ was placed on our monies. Every session of Congress to this day begins with a prayer,” he told listeners. “But, all of this has been challenged. A powerful lobby to make this a purely secular society is at work and making significant gains.”
He quoted from a segment from the late commentator Andy Rooney on some of the problems that face the country today titled, “Did you know?”
“As you walk up the steps to the building which houses the U.S. Supreme Court, you can see near the top of the building a row of the world’s law givers and each one is facing the one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view — it is Moses and he is holding the Ten Commandments.
“As you enter the Supreme Court courtroom, the two huge oak doors have the Ten Commandments engraved on each lower portion of each door.
“As you sit inside the courtroom, you can see on the wall, right above where the Supreme Court judges sit, a display of the Ten Commandments.
“There are Bible verses etched in stone all over the federal buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C.
“James Madison, the fourth president, known as ‘The Father of the Constitution,’ made the following statement: ‘We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God.’
“Every session of Congress begins with a prayer by a paid preacher, whose salary has been paid by the taxpayers since 1777.
“Fifty-two of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members of the established orthodox churches in the colonies.
“Thomas Jefferson worried that the Courts would overstep their authority and instead of interpreting the laws, would begin making law an oligarchy, the rule of few over many.
“How then have we gotten to the point that everything we have done for 235 years in this country is now suddenly wrong and unconstitutional?
“It is said that 86 percent of Americans believe in God. Therefore, it is hard to understand why there is such a mess about the Ten Commandments on display, or ‘In God we Trust’ on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Rooney asks, “Why don’t we just tell the other 14 percent to sit down and shut up?”
To laughter, the bishop responded, “Yes, the State of the Union is an ugly picture. Human dignity is not granted by any one person, group or institution, but is recognized as a previous fact. The grandeur of this dignity reaches its summit in the person of Jesus Christ because God became man. This is the greatest possible dignity we can think of.”
Recently, at the investiture of new Knights and Dames of Malta, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York urged the attendees to be aggressive in the defense of faith. He chronicled how the faith and the church are battered around these days.
“It seems no one cares. Is there anything worthwhile that we stand for as Catholics? Is there anything worth fighting for?” asked the bishop. “In fact, there is. One gave his life for it. His name is Jesus!”
He concluded by thanking the faithful for not only doing the minimum, but for pursuing the maximum in defense of life and the Christian faith.
The prayers of the faithful were given in the native languages of the ethnic groups of the persons presenting them, and prior to the conclusion of the liturgy, a eucharistic procession was held featuring those who made their first holy Communion this past spring.
Closing acknowledgements were given by Bishop Yanta to Steve Persyn, chairman of the Folklife Mass Committee, and JoAnn Andera, director of the Texas Folklife Festival and a Lebanese member of St. George Maronite Church.