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By Lindsay Steele and Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — With homemade passports in hand, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School students “traveled” to 18 different countries on May 18.
“We wanted to make our students aware of the diversity within our community and to celebrate the diversity within our community,” Principal Julie Delaney said of the multicultural celebration. “As the kids understand and get to know other cultures, that breaks down barriers and helps them to appreciate each other.”
Students participated in grade-level groups and traveled from classroom to classroom, where parents and community members shared personal experiences about their countries of origin. After visiting a “country,” the students received stickers for their passports. Students also learned how different cultures celebrate the Catholic faith. “There’s many ways people celebrate our faith,” Delaney explained.
Ruta Pareigis, a parent, demonstrated toys and traditions from her father’s native country, Lithuania. She shared a “worrying Jesus” statue, hand-carved by one of her relatives. “It’s very common in Lithuanian homes,” she explained, noting that Lithuania is a “predominantly Catholic nation.”
Parent Manisha Harmsen, dressed in traditional attire, talked about Nepal’s “family-oriented and celebratory culture.” She described the diverse climates in the Asian country, from the chilly Himalayan range to the hot plains, where “safari animals” roam.
In another room, fifth-grade teacher Anna Haber showed off her Irish dance skills and taught students a jig. First-grader Will Kolner said he taught his mom the dance at home.
Nigeria-native Alexius Chukwuka and his wife, Carol, shared sweet rice and talked about Christian naming customs in the country. Alexius said he was named after a saint, and asked the students if they were named after saints, too. Many of the students raised their hands. “We are from different worlds but so alike in many ways,” Carol said.
Students from Glenview Middle School in East Moline gave a mariachi band performance in the St. Paul gymnasium. After that, St. Paul students enjoyed tacos from a food truck.
The day concluded with Mass at which Father Francis Mensah presided. He is a multilingual priest from the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, Ghana, Africa, who recently began serving in the Diocese of Davenport. Second-graders led the Mass and opened with “We are Marching/ Siyahama,” a lively South African hymn accented with bongo drum. The students sang in Zulu and in English.
Father Mensah interspersed different languages during the Mass — including Latin, his native Twi Fante, German, Italian and English. As he began his homily, he complimented the students for their responses to the Mass parts that he spoke in a language other than English. “I am pleased you understand the languages I am speaking and you respond very well,” he said. He shared brief stories about some of his encounters with people in other countries, which led into his message about the importance of “a powerful tool — language.”
The Apostle Paul “knew how to speak the language of the people” he sought to evangelize —Jews, Romans and Gentiles, said Father Mensah, who urged the students to learn a second language. “Learn to speak it and speak it well.” Paul, a global evangelist, serves as inspiration, Father Mensah believes. Most importantly, he advised the students, “Learn to speak the language of love.”
After Communion, two second-graders shared their gratitude for the special day. “We would like to thank everyone involved in today’s multicultural day,” Lincoln said. “We enjoyed spending our day learning about many of God’s people! Learning about other cultures makes our lives more colorful.”
“It is also so important to learn about others so that we better understand not only our differences, but also how alike God made us,” Celia said. “We are all part of God’s family, and through learning and understanding each other, we hope to live in love, and in peace.”
To conclude the Mass, the second-grade group led their peers singing the “Peace Round:” “What a goodly thing, if the children of the world, could dwell together in peace.”
The day’s highlights for third-grader Gavin Darland included the Mass and a performance by the University of Iowa Steel Drum Band. “I liked the Mass because Father Francis spoke in a different language part of the time, and we got to sing songs in another language,” he said. “I liked the band because it was really fun music.”
Nika Delpreore, a third-grader, said her favorite aspect of the day was trying foods from different countries. She enjoyed hearing a man of Scottish descent play the bagpipe. Another highlight was viewing pictures of “Mary and the flame” during a Medjugorje presentation.
Reflecting on the day, first-grader Piper Boesen said she enjoyed learning to Irish dance and was interested to learn that peanut butter is not widely available in Russia. At home, she showed her parents the Cotton Eye Joe and Mexican Bean Bag dances she learned. She also shared her sticker-filled passport. “It was a great day!”