Nuns celebrate founder's canonization

Special Mass offered at St. Matthew in Govans

October 06, 2003|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Missionary nuns reflecting the living legacy of a 19th-century Italian bishop celebrated his canonization by Pope John Paul II yesterday at a Mass at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Govans.

Several hundred people representing 40 nationalities attended, along with 10 nuns from an organization founded by Daniel Comboni, one of three missionaries canonized by the pope yesterday. Comboni's efforts to establish African missions have expanded to 40 nations on four continents, including seven nuns who make up the Comboni Missionary Sisters' presence at St. Matthew.

"Comboni is now presented to the world as a holy man," said Sister Alzira Neres, who helped launch the Comboni mission in Baltimore in February 2001. "It shows that our roots are holy, and that we must be holy."

The fruits of Comboni's groundbreaking efforts to "save Africa through Africans" were on display during the two-hour ceremony yesterday. In welcoming immigrants for many years, St. Matthew has attracted scores of native Africans who were familiar with the Comboni missionaries in their homelands.

Choirs of Sudanese, Kenyans and Nigerians sang in their native languages, praising God and Comboni's ascension to sainthood. Some of those singers, said the Rev. Joseph L. Muth Jr., St. Matthew's pastor, were taught by Comboni missionaries in African refugee camps.

In addition, the Vietnamese congregation from the Our Lady of La Vang Roman Catholic Church in Middle River accepted Muth's invitation to join in the celebratory Mass.

"In this small parish, the whole world is here," said Sister Carmelita Anosa.

It is this belief in diversity that attracted the Comboni Missionary Sisters to St. Matthew, said Sister Alzira.

"We learned about the diversity of this parish. We thought, `This is our place,'" said Sister Alzira, 59, of Portugal.

"We really felt welcome," said Sister Joan Ramus, 72, of Italy.

Most of the nuns who live at St. Matthew attend the College of Notre Dame to learn English and hone skills used in serving third-world countries. In addition to helping to run the parish, they also perform community service at places such as Good Samaritan Hospital and at nursing homes throughout the city.

Sister Carmelita, 37, a native of the Philippines, is one of five nuns attending school. She is working toward undergraduate degrees in math and music.

She was engaged to be married in December 1994 when she flew to the United Arab Emirates to care for her pregnant sister. Her life changed in an instant while shopping. "What caught my attention -- a nun in the Middle East," she said. She began visiting the Comboni nuns every Friday at a school they ran in the UAE, eventually ended her engagement and joined the order in 1996.

"I trust my life is in good hands -- in the hands of God," she said.

It was in that confidence that the nuns knew Comboni's canonization in Vatican City would go smoothly, despite reports of the declining health of the pope, 83, who suffers from Parkinson's disease.

The pope led a lively 2 1/2 -hour ceremony yesterday in which he canonized Comboni and the two other missionaries: Arnold Janssen, a German; and Josef Freinademetz, an Austrian.

"I was sure that the pope would reach this day," Sister Alzira said. "Something was telling my heart: God could not let us down."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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