By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — If there is one word that sums up “Festival of Nations: Celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord,” it would be unity.
The inaugural bilingual event hosted by the Diocese of Lake Charles at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church Founders’ Hall on Saturday, January 7, attracted nearly 600 hundred people of all ages for an opportunity to embrace traditions of other countries, but more importantly to come together as one faith to adore the Lord just as the Three Wise Men did more than two thousand years ago.
The Guadalupe Dancers from St. Henry Catholic Church kicked off the festivities followed by a colorful entrance of flags representing nearly 30 countries.
Bishop Glen John Provost led a prayer for peace in the world before blessing the food. Then guests took their tastebuds on a tour by sampling cuisine from the Philippines, Singapore, Nigeria, Germany, France, Saipan, Sicily, India, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador, Mexico, and even a mix of Cajun and African American flavor to spice things up.
Festive entertainment included a cultural show with traditional songs, dances, and regional costumes from several countries. Musical artist Lazaro Morales, owner of DJ Lex, donated his time in operating the digital sound system.
A crowd-pleaser was when Monsignor Daniel Torres, Vicar General; and Father Rojo Koonathan, H.G.N., joined the “Dance of the Hispanic Artists” led by Ricardo Ruvalcaba that had everyone moving and grooving. Before it was over, Father Rommel Tolentino, Sister Maura Clare Mayock, R.S.M., and Sister Miriam Ruth Ryan, R.S.M., couldn’t help but join in the fun, too!
The unification of countries was one way to gather people from across the Diocese to learn about traditions, but the focus of the three-hour event was to come together to adore the Lord and follow the star to Jesus like the Three Kings did.
“The Three Wise Men left everything behind to follow the star,” said Ruvalcaba, one of the event organizers with Father Koonathan and Father Tolentino. “Jesus is our star. We must follow the star like the Three Wise Men did.”
Ruvalcaba said that the celebration of Three Kings Day is a beautiful Hispanic tradition in Mexico where he is from.
“We are called to save our traditions. My family is not in our country anymore, but if we walk with our traditions, then we are at home,” he said.
During this time of the National Eucharistic Revival, the Festival of Nations was a meaningful way to celebrate the Magi’s adoration of the baby Jesus while serving as a reminder of the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
With special emphasis on the Feast of the Epiphany, the Three Kings led a procession — with an eight-foot star — through the parking lot to Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church for Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. The star was handcrafted by Miguel and Esthela del Rosal, parishioners of St. Henry.
“We all have different traditions, but we share in one faith, one body, one soul,” said Ruvalcaba. “This is the goal of the first Christians: one soul, one mind, one body. I think today we lived that beautiful experience of our Church. There are a lot of countries, but only one Lord, only one faith.”
The tradition of gifts brought by the Three Wise Men to Jesus was celebrated by giving toys and candy to all the children. Ruvalcaba emphasized that the Festival of Nations was a special event with children in mind. Gifts were chosen with an educational focus.
“We are trying to encourage our children with science, art, and reading. Their gifts included toys from NASA with different things about science. They also received art, because art is so important, and books about the bible and learning good manners,” Ruvalcaba said.
Samara Rigmaiden of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Ragley, who brought her four children, ages 10, 7, 5, and almost 2 years old, said she was excited to learn of the event. She was joined by her mother, Claudia Dugas.
“I thought it would be a beautiful way to celebrate the Epiphany, just thinking about Jesus coming for all the nations,” said Samara. “It was a great opportunity for the kids to experience multicultural diversity.”
Bianca Gonzalez of St. Henry Catholic Church said she is used to celebrating Three Kings Day with her three children, but on a smaller scale.
“This was the first time for me to experience the Feast of the Epiphany with a much bigger event like it was today,” said Bianca. “It was beautiful to see all these countries getting together and representing their own traditions. It was wonderful to experience and taste some of their food and learn about their cultures.”
Marshall Simien, a member of the Knights of Peter Claver Council 141 at Immaculate Heart of Mary, who helped serve food, had this to say: “At the end of the day, God created one race — human. But in a sense of humor, he gave us this incredible flavor — Neapolitan.”
Many tried their best to capture special moments of the day with videos and photographs, hoping to hold on to memories that unite rather than divide; memories their children will have for a lifetime.
“With this international feast, we are building bridges between the different cultures,” said Ruvalcaba. “Jesus said, ‘Let the children be near to me,’ and today we made that happen.”
NOTE: View photos on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lake Charles Facebook page.