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The diocese now offers Masses in French in Manassas

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At Sacred Heart Chapel in Manassas, a small but close-knit community of French-speaking immigrants gather once a month to attend Mass celebrated in their native language, thanks to a new undertaking by the Office of Multicultural Ministries.

“It’s not completed. It’s just starting,” said Bridget Wilson, program specialist. “The needs of the community are constantly evolving.”

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Fr. Ghenghan Mbinkar, a Cameroonian priest in residence at St. James Church in Falls Church, celebrates a French-language Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Manassas. BRIDGET WILSON | COURTESY

The office worked closely with community leader Antoine Tovon to organize Masses in French every third Sunday at 3 p.m. Currently the Masses are celebrated by Father Ghenghan Mbinkar, a priest in residence at St. James Church in Falls Church, who is originally from Cameroon. A group of about 50 people attended the first Mass Jan. 20. Participants enjoyed the experience.

“Everyone was so joyful. They had a wonderful time at the Mass. They were excited to come back to the next one,” said Wilson, who attended the service to show diocesan support for the community. “Things get lost in translation sometimes. They can really get the fullness of what’s being proclaimed to them in these Masses.”

Tovon, 39, is originally from Togo and has been in the diocese for 15 years. After moving to the United States in 2004, he initially attended Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria. He subsequently attended St. Joseph Church in Herndon and now All Saints — he occasionally commuted to St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md. for Mass in French.

“For many French-speaking immigrants like myself, understanding English was a challenge. Therefore, I spoke with friends about it, and everyone welcomed the idea to create the community,” said Tovon, who approached the diocese about the need for French-language Masses.

Members of the diocese’s French-speaking community come from all over the world, including Africa — Togo, Benin, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon. Others are from Canada. Although diverse, all share the common bond of speaking French since childhood.

“The universality of the church was the main motivation,” said Tovon. “Attending Masses in the language that we knew and grew up with became essential.”

The Office of Multicultural Ministries left no stone unturned to meet the community’s need. Seeking to provide Mass attendees with the correct French-language liturgy, lectionaries and missalettes were ordered from France. Copies are kept in the chancery for anyone who may need them. The office is seeking backup French-speaking priests to expand the Mass schedule.

“We’re joyful to be able to provide them the ability to hear the Mass in a language they grew up speaking,” said Wilson.

According to Tovon, you don’t have to speak French to come to the Masses.

“We are a growing community whose central focus is not only the French languages, but above all the Roman Catholic faith,” he said. “I also want to say that all are welcome, and we are working on creating various ministries for our spiritual growth.”

Fletcher can be reached at zita.fletcher@catholicherald.com or @zbfletcherACH. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019