After several weeks of distracting myself at work and not going to daily Mass, I stepped out into the bleak and rainy Manhattan streets today and walked downtown to my regular lunchtime haunt for Mass. I was saddened to see, upon walking into the nave, a sign announcing the Memorial Mass for Fr. George Kipiri, who died on October 16 at the young age of 44.
Fr. George was one of the regular celebrants at the weekday Mass at Holy Innocents, though he was not officially on the parish staff. Rather, he came from his regular assignment at another church in Manhattan to assist in the celebration of the six daily Masses at Holy Innocents. He came to America, as I learned today, six years ago from Nigeria, leaving his family to serve the People of God here in the Archdiocese of New York. His sister-in-law took him in upon his arrival in the United States and helped to introduce him into the Archdiocese.
I never got to speak with Fr. George person-to-person, but from the several years of attending the Masses he celebrated, I recall fondly his booming baritone voice, with which he always joyfully and authoritatively proclaimed the Gospel. I recall how he always began his homilies by saying, "My dear People of God," and how he always concluded with the most hopeful of statements, "when we come into His Kingdom."
He exuded joy and hope and a love of God that always called me out of the petty worries and distractions that us office workers can so easily become entangled in, and reminded me, even if only for the quiet and dimly-lit half-hour of the day, that God was real, and present in the world, and that He loved me and gave Himself up for me.
As I knelt in the pew before Mass today, I was saddened that I wouldn't hear Fr. George's voice at lunchtime anymore, and yet I was filled with joy that I had crossed paths with him at all. It is so easy to take people and places for granted in this large and ever-changing city; and yet we see that we become attached to those people and places that we encounter habitually, even if we never get to know them all that well. They enrich our lives, and perhaps, we enrich theirs as well.
I prayed for Fr. George's soul, that he might be forgiven his sins and that he might come to the resurrection with the God whom he served and obviously loved. I was thankful that he came here, to a place far from home, that he gave his life in prayer and sacrifice for us, and that those who knew him better than I did saw fit to remember him and celebrate his life. I hope that we all continue to pray for one another, and hope that we all are joyfully reunited "when we come into His Kingdom."
In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
"May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest."
From Fallen Sparrow's blog. Used by permission.