Condensed from an Essay by Fr. Quilin Bouzi, OMI
For nearly six years, Fr. Quilin Bouzi, OMI, has been ministering to the people of Buffalo, NY as a member of the Oblate Mission Center. Prior to being named pastor of three parishes, Holy Angels, Our Lady of Hope, and Holy Cross, he served as as a parochial vicar and formation assistant at the pre-novitiate program in Buffalo.
The three parishes the Oblates minister to are known for their minority populations. Parishioners hail from Puerto Rico, Myanmar and all over Africa. Many are refugees fleeing from war-stricken countries who find their new country has a strange culture and unfamiliar language.
Lay interpreters translate Mass to their communities. The sign of peace is shared in seven languages. The message we have for the people of Buffalo is that the West Side of our great city is that it is very much alive. There are a lot of things happening.
The Oblate Team at the Mission Center are as diverse as the neighborhood in which they serve. Two priests hail from the U.S: Paul Nourie is assistant formator for the pre-novitiate, and Steve Vasek’s focus is in mission and retreat preaching. Fr. David Munoz, parochial vicar, is from Puerto Rico, and Alejandro Roque, director of the pre-novitiate program, was born in Cuba. Fr. Humphrey Milimo, parochial vicar, comes from Zambia, and Pastor Quilin Bouzi is a native of Haiti.
“Mission Centers” are relatively new to the Oblates, so in order to cultivate and grow this new concept in ministry, the team members commit themselves to regular meetings where they share prayer, insight, and fellowship while making plans for community life and apostolic outreach. These meetings are also an opportunity to regularly review the “essential elements” of a mission center as presented by leadership and use them as a guide to growth in community and outreach.
The Oblates in Buffalo, as elsewhere, seek to empower the laity to work side by side with them. For example, Fr. David Muñoz works with a group of Oblate associates, a lay group of 40 who are encouraged to be involved in the Oblate spirituality and mission, working alongside the team, helping out, where there is need.
The three parishes mentioned earlier, Holy Angels, Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope are linked as part of the Mission Center of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The Oblates hope to revitalize the parishes on the West Side of Buffalo by building bridges across the many cultures and generations of the three parishes and engage young families of all cultures in meaningful relationships.Ministering to such a varied group of faith communities presents many challenges:
Within the boundaries of the three parishes there are some 1200 families and almost 3000 members who hail from such diverse countries and cultures as: Burundi, Burma, Rwanda, Togo, Kenya, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Vietnam, Puerto Rico, Trinidad andTobago, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The various languages spoken include: English, Spanish, Italian, Burmese, Chin, Karen, Karenni, Kirundi, Vietnamese and French. Parishioners who speak English are recruited to serve as interpreters for their communities.
In addition to language, effective communication can require successfully navigating within the cultural, tribal and ethnic differences of communities, and example of which are the Sudanese and Burmese.
The Oblates also strive to respond to other needs of the many young families who struggle with the task of survival and enculturation. Research suggests these families will be the most influential force in the lives of their children. Therefore, these inter-ethnic/urban parishes are in a privileged position to provide them with resources and support to help these families succeed.
An example of this is the tri-parish food pantry. Here again, in order to serve the various communities, cultural and ethnic differences must be taken into account. This requires a familiarity with which ethnic foods are needed by the various people we serve.
The most pressing challenge for our three parishes is finances. Neither the parishes nor the parishioners possess the resources required to satisfy all that’s needed. The good news is that the Mission Center has a culturally competent pastoral team, committed lay leaders and devoted parents who cherish their Catholic faith.
Looking toward the future, the Oblates at the Mission Center consider the strategic questions regarding, identity, capacity and purpose. To thrive, and not merely survive in the years ahead, a vital parish must remain true to its identity, and communicate a compelling sense of purpose. According to Fr. Bouzi, “We must be able to revitalize our people and mobilize them around an evangelizing plan of action.”
Fortunately the Oblates have partners in their work including a dedicated staff to assist in their daily mission.
Also collaborating with them are the religious sisters of St. Mary of Namur and the Gray Nuns of the Sacred Heart who have a long history in the city of Buffalo and surrounding areas. During this year dedicated to the consecrated life they continue to work together in order to make the kingdom a reality among the people we serve.
Due to their unique situation, the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has selected the linked parishes in Buffalo to be among 30 in the United States to participate in an in-depth study of parish life in the United States. This study, commissioned by the USCCB and conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), focuses on cultural diversity in the Catholic Church. The Mission Center’s participation is seen as a key element in helping the Catholic Church better understand and minister to parishes with very culturally diverse communities, the fastest growing part of the church in the United States. The study aims to provide an accurate portrait of multicultural Catholic parish life.
The Oblates hope that the results of this study will further enable them to better serve this new dimension presently challenging the church in the United States. The reasons for their dedication to this ministry is outlined in their Mission Statement.
“We the members of the Oblate Mission Center in Buffalo, New York, seek to read the signs of the times in the Buffalo area. Inspired by the charism of Saint Eugene de Mazenod, we seek to follow the commandment of Jesus Christ to preach the Good News to the poor, the most abandoned, those whose voice is not easily heard as well as those removed from active participation in the life of the Church.”