On Sundays, Father Schmidt celebrates Mass. Now, in addition to the bilingual Masses, every second Sunday of the month, there is Mass entirely in Samoan at St. Benedict or St. Anthony.
News has quickly spread by word of mouth that a Samoan priest is in town and saying Mass in Samoan, Father Schmidt noted.
“Whenever they hear of a Samoan Mass, they always come,” he said — including those Catholic Samoans who have drifted away to other denominations.
Vili hopes the presence of a Catholic Samoan priest will remind them that “our church is our second family.”
Indeed, the culture “back home,” Vili explained, is devoutly Catholic.
There, he said, people recognize the priest as the “representative of God in the world,” and so “we strongly respect the priests and deacons.”
As well, the young respect their elders, he added, and “at six o’clock in the evening, everybody’s in the house saying prayers. And nobody runs the streets.”
Working around English
But sometimes the scene is different in Anchorage, explained Vili.
He believes language is the issue. Samoans in English-speaking Alaska who aren’t proficient in English aren’t growing in the faith, he said. Because of that, they have trouble transmitting the faith to their English-speaking children, he added.
So Vili hopes that by using their native language, the Samoan priest will reinvigorate the faith in “our older people that have a lack of understanding in the language, so they can understand when the priest is speaking or giving a sermon.” Then, he said, “they can encourage their kids to go to church and do the right thing, instead of getting in trouble in the street and doing the wrong thing.”
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In addition to hearing the homily in Samoan, local Samoans will see familiar bits of their culture at Mass.
The ecclesiastical term is “inculturation” — the transformation of cultural values by integrating them into Christianity. This also includes the implementation of Christianity into different cultures.
This occurs when the particular Catholic Church — especially where the faith is still young and growing — integrates appropriate forms of the local cultural heritage into the liturgy of the universal church, where it is judged useful and necessary.
That could include adding across time certain devout cultural traditions, without distracting or subtracting from the beliefs and practices of the universal church handed down through the uninterrupted Apostolic tradition.
Inculturation is not simply a performance, but it must express true communal prayer of adoration, praise, offering and supplication.