“We like to call ourselves ‘a little United Nations,’” said Dawn Riske, music minister at Christ the King Parish in University City, referring to the number of immigrant families and the diversity of people in the parish.
The blend helps make the parish welcoming, she said.
Christ the King Parish reaches out to the community, serving as an overnight location housing families who are homeless through Room at the Inn and with an active Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a social justice committee and more. “We have layers of welcome,” Riske said.
On the Feast of St. Francis, Father Speratus Kamanzi blessed pets of children from Christ the King School. The University City High School Band and fire trucks led a march from a nearby park. A few parishioners, some neighbors and school parents watched the children line up on the parking lot for the blessing.
School parent Cecil Farrell said that “in hard times of chaos in the world, this parish has come together and these kids are all friends. The world needs more diversity. It helps people understand differences and each other’s cultures.”
Parishioner Helen Petropoulos said, “I like the parish’s openness to everyone. They welcome people of any age, any background.”
The welcoming spirit is guided by the parish pastor, Msgr. Michael Turek. It was highlighted with arrival of Father Kamanzi, a priest from Tanzania who is a member of the Apostles of Jesus Missionaries and a chaplain and instructor in religion at Fontbonne University.
“We really appreciate and respect that diversity and celebrate it in our parish life,” Msgr. Turek said. The parish is blessed to have Father Kamanzi serve there, he added. “He brings with him a fresh and alive spirit of the burgeoning Church in Africa along with zealous missionary spirit of his order.”
Father Kamanzi “adds a nuanced and unique perspective on faith in the Church as we hear it though his preaching. His joy is infectious, Msgr. Turek said.
The parish is intentionally welcoming, said Thomas Miller, who has been active on the parish council, pro-life committee and new social justice committee. The pastor reaches out and says hello, and parishioners also make a point to introduce themselves to people they don’t know, “looking out for those folks the following weeks to make sure they feel welcome,” he said.
People with children are told not to worry if their little ones cry, make noise or have difficulty staying still. “That makes people feel welcome as well,” said Miller, chair of the archdiocese’s Peace and Justice Commission.
Miller finds a good mix of people — second- and third-generation parishioners of Christ the King and people new to the parish and/or area, younger and older people, different ethnic backgrounds.
After arriving at Christ the King, Father Kamanzi said, he realized he was coming to “a family of friends And since then, for me, Christ the King became a real family.”
At the first Mass he celebrated, he introduced a phrase, “Jambo,” a greeting in Swahili, a language used in his home country. It’s become a catch-phrase in the parish community.
Father Kamanzi shared the joy he experienced as he approached his 25th anniversary of ordination with a theme of “My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” which comes from the phrase the Blessed Virgin Mary said when she received message that she was going to become the mother of Our Savior and as she assented to God’s will. When Father Kamanzi told parishioners he was going back home to celebrate the anniversary, interest built about the possibility of one or more people from the parish accompanying him.
Msgr. Turek and parishioner Scott Frakes represented Christ the King on the trip along with Fontbonne president, Mike Pressimone and his wife, Cathy. The trip was a true pilgrimage and a joining of two families — the priest’s relatives and his spiritual family from St. Louis. Students at Christ the King collected funds, school supplies and more for schoolchildren in the village where Father Kamanzi lived.
After he returned to University City, parishioners organized a Mass and reception for him in honor of his anniversary. Riske and the combined children and adult choirs sang Swahili songs during the Mass. East African food was featured, and the video of the Tanzanian celebration was played for all to witness.
“I may be in a place that is foreign to me, but I experienced this because of the spirit of welcome that I have seen here, the concern, the care and the friendship,” Father Kamanzi said. Christ the King has a similar warmth that he found in the small Christian communities in his home country, he added.