By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “We celebrate as a community the feast of St. Martin de Porres,” said Father Thom Hennen, welcoming the gathering to Mass Nov. 3 at Sacred Heart Cathedral that included a French-speaking African choir.
Father Hennen, the cathedral’s pastor, presided at Mass and prayed briefly in French during the opening prayer. His concelebrant was Father Eric Kpotor, SMA, of Christ the King Parish in Moline, Illinois. The African choir from the Moline parish led the gathering in song.
St. Martin de Porres, born in 1579 in Peru to a Peruvian woman and a Spanish father, grew up in poverty. He entered an apprenticeship in medicine and sought to become a member of a religious order. Under Peruvian law, he could not become a full member of a religious order because of his race. However, in 1603 the Dominicans accepted him as a lay brother and he used his medical skills to care for the sick, Father Hennen said in his homily. St. Martin de Porres died Nov. 3, 1639. St. John XXIII canonized the Dominican on May 6, 1962.
Reflecting on the first reading from Philippians, Father Hennen noted the contrast between the lives of St. Paul and St. Martin de Porres. St. Paul observed the laws, was a Roman citizen, had status and power. Paul recognized that even though he had all those things, they meant nothing compared to his love for and relationship with Jesus. Paul argued for the inclusion of non-circumcised Gentiles into the congregations of Jesus’ followers, referring to their belief as circumcision of the heart. St. Martin de Porres was multi-racial and had nothing given to him. Yet he also recognized through his love of Christ that he had circumcision of the heart. The two saints lived different lives at different times but held in common their desire for Christ in their lives.
Father Hennen said the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet helped form the St. Martin de Porres Society at Sacred Heart Cathedral in 1985, which strove to serve people in need, promote the Catholic Church and see the value and dignity of all persons. He said the society “helps bring a sense of community in a diverse parish, community and world.”
In his one year and four months at the cathedral, Father Hennen said he has attended “lots of rich discussions” at society meetings, viewed the documentary, “A Place at the Table: African Americans on the Path to Sainthood,” and visited the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.
After Mass, each worshiper received a battery-powered candle and processed outside around the cathedral grounds to the prayer garden where a statue of St. Martin de Porres is set. The choir sang during the procession and motorists driving by on Iowa Street slowed down and opened their windows to listen.
In the prayer garden, Thomas Mason IV, president of the St. Martin de Porres Society, made a connection between his role as a fan of Notre Dame University and attending Mass at the university’s Baumer Hall after a football game Oct. 22. He noticed that the chapel is named after St. Martin de Porres and features Latin American-style Stations of the Cross. He spoke with the chaplain, Father Robert Lisowski, CSC, and told him about Sacred Heart Cathedral’s dedication to the saint through the St. Martin de Porres Society.
Father Hennen concluded the event with prayer and blessing of the food and Father Kpotor gave a final blessing. The attendees walked to the gathering space entrance and as the choir sang another song, joined in the dancing. A reception followed in the parish hall.
“It’s always nice to hear different music,” said Andrea Edelen, a cathedral parishioner and member of St. Martin de Porres Society. The weather, she added, was perfect for the outdoor procession