Protesters Went To Church All Their Lives But Had No Idea What It Was About

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They did not like the way the priest was changing their parish.

To be clear, the priest did nothing immoral or illegal. He was bringing Catholic worship to a Catholic church. For that, he was told he “abused” those in the church.

When I first heard about this parish in Portland, I gulped and thought of parishes in my diocese, but then I read that it was the “other” Portland. There, at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, in the Archdiocese of Portland (Oregon), the dispute occurred.

Father George Kuforiji’s changes were meant to align the church’s worship to the liturgy established by the Catholic Church, removing unauthorized additions and changes. He also removed banners, vestments, and photographs that were not liturgical. For that, a group of parishioners protested.

Did they storm into a parish council meeting? No.

Conduct a sit-in at the rectory? Nope.

The protesters marched into the church during Mass — according to the Catholic News Agency, during the Eucharistic consecration.

And there, they lost ALL credibility.

When a Catholic interrupts the celebration of the Eucharist, the message is clear:  Look at me.

The focus of the Catholic liturgy is to look to Jesus, wonderfully and mysteriously present in the Eucharist. To interrupt that – the crux of Catholic worship and a foundational teaching of the Church – in order to announce one’s personal beliefs, is misguided on so many levels.

Among Father Kuforiji’s reforms was a return to authorized liturgical texts. The previous, unauthorized text would not refer to God as Lord or King (too patriarchal).

Also eliminated was a statement of “community commitment,” recited after the Creed. Vestments that were not liturgically sound (although they may have been trendy) were also done away with.

The banner at the entrance of the church – stating “Immigrants & Refugees welcome” – was removed. Since all are always welcome in a Catholic church – the word means “universal” — one wonders the political motivation behind the message. Interestingly, when The Oregonian reported on the dispute and the banner’s removal, it failed to mention that Father Kuforiji is, himself, an immigrant from Nigeria.

Predictably, The Oregonian news story sided with the “progressives.” In the opening paragraph, it states: “Week after week, parishioners said, George Kuforiji changed their church in ways they didn’t think he ever could.”

Catholic liturgy and worship are not up for a vote. When they are out of alignment with the Church, the priest must make changes.

The protest during the Mass involved 16 people. When another parishioner defended Father Kuforiji, calling him a “holy priest,” he was shouted down and told, “You don’t belong here.”

Let that sink in:  A man, coming to join in the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist, is told he doesn’t belong because he will not condone the actions and opinions of a small, “progressive” group.

The Oregonian did not mention that all the protesters are white, and Father Kuforiji is black. (Can you imagine, if the priest was white and the protesters were black, how the media might have played it?)

Catholic News Agency offered this wonderfully subtle paragraph:

“The demonstrators then linked arms and sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ a Gospel song typically associated with the civil rights movement in the U.S., in protest of the African-born priest.”

Long before Father Kuforiji’s arrival, the parish did perform good works, especially the establishment of the “St. Francis Dining Hall,” which offers food for the poor. It still does.

But the Church is more than a soup kitchen. As the insightful Bishop Robert Barron points out in his recent video, “Caring for the poor is an essential aspect to the Church’s life. But it’s not the whole of the Church life.”

Barron’s video is in reaction to a recent Pew Research survey which found that 69% of “self-described” Catholics don’t believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist; that the communion wafer is only a symbol.

The divine presence in the Eucharist is a basic tenet of Catholic faith, Barron said. He offers a litany of social justice champions – St. Vincent de Paul, Jacques Maritain, St. Katherine Drexel, Reynold Hillenbrand, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and Dorothy Day – who were devoted to the Eucharist.

Barron calls the Pew survey the result of a massive failure in teaching the Catholic faith. “We’re seeing the bitter fruit of it,” he said.

Many who don’t understand the faith leave the Church – and that Pew research did not specify how many of those surveyed were actual practicing Catholics or were Catholic in name only.

Or people look for a Church where faith can be re-shaped to their liking.

But faith begins with God, no?

After the fateful Mass in Portland, Oregon, in which the protesters interrupted, one of them confronted Father Kuforiji.

“How can you be a priest?” she said. “I’ve been here over 15 years. You’ve been here a year.”

Father Kuforiji’s reply: “Do you have reverence for God?”

Good question.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.