NJameh.Camara“Some Sugar for Your Tea,” N’Jameh CamaraI’ve been studying abroad in Rome for over a month now and have been able to observe some faith traditions and compare them to going to Mass at my home parish, Our Lady of Good Hope, Milwaukee. Sometimes I go to Lumen Cristi, St. Catherine, St. Eugene, and Holy Hill. Recently I went to a 10 a.m. Mass at the Church of St. Agnes in Piazza Nuvona here in Rome, the assumed location where St. Agnes was martyred.

The church held relics of St. Agnes, including her skull in a glass case. Now, I’m not very used to seeing relics from saints on display, so when I saw St. Agnes’ tiny skull, not going to lie, I had to get over some chills. But anywho…

There, I observed Lent with the congregation, the priest still wore purple, and he gave the beautiful blessing over the Eucharist in Italian. I was not surprised to see that going to church in Rome was like going to church at Our Lady of Good Hope. However, there were two major differences.

First, Mass was in Italian, obviously. What was really neat was that I didn’t have to understand Italian to know what was going on. It’s crazy, but I still had a sense of community. I had an “Ah hah!” moment where I truly felt the meaning of what it means to be Catholic. The Mass was universal, and that Catholics from around the globe, no matter what time, would be celebrating the Eucharist during this Lenten season in their own languages. I felt more involved in the Mass because I stopped listening to the words that often become repetitive and can lose meaning when I say them in English. I started listening to my intentions more. In my mind I was speaking English, like I was having a private conversation with God. My mom would have loved it. She, like me, really enjoys participating and observing the way different parishes carry out the Mass. But let me tell you, if she saw this church with Baroque statues and architecture along with the Italian language, she would have said, “Oh how awesome!” and I would have understood exactly why.

Another difference from the St. Agnes church in the Piazza to Our Lady of Good Hope was that the congregation was less diverse. Although, I think that OLGH, amongst other Milwaukee parishes, is very special in that aspect. It feels so great to walk into 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m. or 7 p.m. Mass where you see people from all different heritages and socio-economic statuses.ChurchThis is a snapshot of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest Roman Catholic Church in Rome, Italy. (Submitted photo courtesy N’Jameh Camara)

Every Sunday I am reminded of who I am as a person of faith and as a person in general. Perhaps this is because I recite the “Our Father” with my Filipino family members and say, “Peace be with you” with Latino, African, European and other Asian members of the church. At OLGH, we even hold a feast day celebration where the different members of the community make a dish that represents their culture. These movements help to create the overall “culture” of my parish and I feel proud to profess my faith with such a group!

Perhaps I went to St. Agnes at the wrong time. I’ll give them that. But I cannot deny that what is so important about my family’s and my faith tradition back home is that we embrace diversity in a parish.

I think a part of what causes me to be so aware of a diverse congregation is that my dad is Muslim. And no, there has never been any issue of faith in my house. My parents’ idea in believing in God is just that, to believe in God. They have told me that they both worship the same God, just in different ways.

It doesn’t make me less Catholic. If anything, it’s deepened my faith.

What’s even cooler is that my dad has gone to several different Masses to be with his family. Easter Sunday and whenever my siblings and I would do readings are his Masses of choice.

In my decision to be a confirmed Catholic, he fully embraced me and still continues to pray for me in Arabic. I love it! It gets me so excited just thinking about it. Seriously, he is one cool man and my mom is one cool woman for being a devout Catholic and being open minded to my dad’s beliefs.

Going to church in Rome has made me even more appreciative of the faith traditions within my family and parish. But I’m also glad that Rome has pushed me back on my heels and has made me translate the Mass. It gives it a new meaning and I don’t look at it so much as “going through the motions” when I get used to saying the responses to prayers out of habit.

I’ve taken my faith tradition to Rome, and although there might not be as much diversity as I would like in the congregations, I can still appreciate Mass as a celebration, and at least I can for sure celebrate the diversity that I can add.

(Camara is majoring in theater performance, and working toward minors in women/gender studies and communications at Loyola University in Chicago. Her home parish is Our Lady of Good Hope, Milwaukee. Follow her blog as she studies abroad at tinyurl.com/7z8jnoy. Email her at ncamara@luc.edu)