A fast growing community in the heart of the City praises God with passion and hope
Deep in the heart of Harlem, on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd and Morningside Ave, sits a small church that serves a growing Catholic community. The church of St. Joseph of the Holy Family, whose foundation was laid in 1859, is the oldest church above 44th street and has been a constant amid the shifting cultural sands of the community for the past 160 years.
On June 23, a “new” community within the parish celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi with their countrymen in a passionate and joy-filled service marked by the sounds of cheering, dancing, and singing reverberating through the streets of Harlem.
This community traces back a few years to when the parish began a monthly 2:00pm Mass in French for the neighborhood’s growing African community. When Fr. Joseph Kinda, a priest hailing from Burkina Faso, arrived three years ago and changed the monthly Mass to a weekly one, the community exploded.
The community, primarily from the Burkina Faso region in West Africa, brings a dynamic cultural expression of faith to New York: faith-centered, joy-filled, and family-oriented. These are the three pillars of this community, which feels more like an extended family and sees people traveling from as far as Washington and Virginia to participate in Sunday Masses.
As the Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi concluded, Fr. Joseph gently placed the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance, as the warm breezes of the hot city streets blew through the open windows of the church. He raised the Monstrance to process among the congregation as an altar server swung the red hot censer before the Blessed Sacrament, the smoke filling the air with its fragrance as a symbol of the prayers of the faithful rising before the Almighty.
The thunderous sound of singing filled the church as passers-by peeked in to witness this epic expression of faith. As the Monstrance was returned to the Altar, the congregation sang and clapped and danced with an unspeakable passion, celebrating that they were together with Jesus Christ in Harlem.
For a city proudly built by the sweat and tears of its immigrants, with a skyline continuing to stretch skyward, this community is bringing the gift of its faith, the true bedrock upon which great societies are built.
The hope of this great city lives in the hearts of its faithful. And for a city in dire need of hope, this community and others like it are a God-send.