KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Catholic church in North Knoxville is trying to make sure as many people as possible have a chance to participate in Mass by offering service in Swahili.
According to the Diocese of Knoxville, the Holy Ghost Church is offering Masses in Swahili on the last Saturday of every month at 5 p.m. The language is spoken in many African countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and some parts of South Sudan.
“It has been especially challenging to reach out to the African community since they represent several countries, each with their own language, though Swahili is common to all of them,” said Bill McNeeley, the pastor of the church. “There are perhaps 30 to 35 such parishioners who attend Mass every Sunday without fail.”
McNeeley said he invited those parishioners to dinner at the church to talk about their community. One parishioner was able to translate for the rest, and they asked for English lessons as well as Mass services in Swahili.
“They come to the mass faithfully every Sunday and other holy days of obligation,” McNeely said. "They need to feel like this is their home.”
"These are good people who have been traumatized by years and, in some cases, four or five decades of civil war. Some had known only war for their entire lives until they came to the United States," he said. "They need to be made to feel at home, which means hearing the Mass in their own tongue."
Pontian Kiyimba, an associate pastor in Oak Ridge, is leading the Swahili services. He said he also plans to work with the African community to improve organization and improve Swahili worship.
“My aim is to reach out and serve all people in a way that I can and so I felt it was good that I did it. I am happy I did it," Kiyimba said. "It’s amazing if one is able to worship in the language he or she understands, however, it’s good that people learn the language.”
English classes will start in September at the Ladies of Charity, a thrift store in Knoxville.