African choir brings gift of music, more to Rushville parish
By: Text and photo by Jennifer Willems
RUSHVILLE — Music is the language that transcends all other languages. For the last three months the African Ensemble of Central Illinois has been sharing that language with the members of St. Rose Parish here as they praise God together.
In recent years Africans from many countries have made their home in Beardstown, Bloomington, Champaign, Danville, Jacksonville, Springfield and the Quad Cities for work, to get a higher education or to be with their families. Msgr. Brian Rejsek, pastor of St. Rose and St. Mary in Lewistown, said he saw music as a way to reach out to them and help them find a spiritual home in the Catholic Church.
Once a month he celebrates Mass in French and English and the African Ensemble of Central Illinois provides the musical leadership. On a recent Sunday they sang in three African languages as well as English.
The director of the choir is Bozi Kiekie, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is a teacher by profession, but is working as a union steward for the African workers at Cargill in Beardstown.
The ensemble’s coordinator is Frida Fokum, an epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health in Springfield. She is from Cameroon and came to the United States on a scholarship.
“We want to glorify God by praying and by singing in our different languages,” Fokum told The Catholic Post. She explained that while the group is mostly Catholic based, they do sing in other churches because it is the only African choir in the region.
In addition to being welcomed at St. Rose in Rushville, the ensemble has been offered opportunities to sing at St. Agnes, Christ the King and St. Aloysius in Springfield. Fokum said they have also been invited to sing for the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield and at a Black History Month event at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
“Singing here will bring more people, more Africans,” Kiekie said. “Father speaks French and this is very, very important. People don’t come to our churches because of the language. Coming here and Father trying to introduce the French language, it will bring more people to this congregation.”
Fokum said many African Catholics are being lost to interdenominational churches due to language and other cultural issues.
“What a choir like this has done is some of them are saying, ‘Oh, so we too belong to the church and we can actually come and feel like our voices are being heard and feel like we’re part of the community,” she said.
Many of them stay after Mass to relax and socialize.
“They really enjoy singing and they share food together,” Fokum said. “This is how they spend their social time together.”
The St. Rose community appreciates their gifts.
“The Africans have given us a world perspective,” said trustee Linda Butler. “They expanded our community.”