Just massing around

Junior shares the experience of attending Catholic churches in different countries


The inside of a church Ali Richter has visited during her travels. Submitted photo.

Story by Ali Richter, staff writer

Early Sunday morning I walk into a classroom that is hastily decorated for a church service and filled with around 20 native islanders. Everyone rises, and they begin singing hymns, but it is far from the ordinary American church service. There is a man with a tambourine, a group of people who stomp the beat and a group of singers divided between baritones and sopranos. The boisterous yet beautiful sound floats out of the open window and can be heard over the lapping of waves on the beach.

My family members and I visited this small Catholic church on the island of St. John during our trip this past summer. We make it a point to go to Mass on all of our vacations, especially ones that are outside of the United States. Each church we visit brings new experiences and perspectives on the seemingly strict Catholic religion.

When in Rome, my family wanted to visit Vatican City, the Catholic capital of the world.  For all you non-religious types, the Vatican is a huge historic building, and the 100 acres it sits on is actually considered a separate country from Italy. It is the smallest country in the world, of course.

Inside the giant Vatican is the famous St. Peter’s basilica, which is where mass is held. My family went on a weekday instead of Sunday, so there were less people crowding the church. In Vatican City women are not allowed to wear shorts and all shoulders must be covered.  The mass was quite similar to the ones we are accustomed to at home, only it was in Italian, which made it a bit harder to follow.

Another one of our family vacations was to the island of San Pedro in Belize. The island was relatively small and easy to navigate. Our hotel was only one street over from the only Catholic church on the island. The church was literally 20 feet from the water, and the inside showcased it. Huge wooden doors facing the water stayed open throughout the Mass so that we could feel the ocean breeze and see the gorgeous beach right in front of us.

The church service was short compared to ones back in the States. It took about 45 minutes compared to the usual hour to hour and a half.

The priest of the Belizean church was delighted to see visitors and eagerly asked my family where we were from. When we told him we were from the United States, he told us he would soon be stationed there in Colorado. He was very gracious and excited to see visitors in his parish.

The most recent place my family vacationed was in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, specifically St. John. Getting to the church there was no easy feat. It was located on the opposite side of the island from where we were staying, and we had to take many winding uphill roads to get there. The speed limit on St. John is 20 mph everywhere, no exceptions.

After our slow journey, we finally arrived at a school that was used for church services. Chickens and donkeys walked freely around outside as we entered the church. Not surprisingly, we were the only white people in the place. We stuck out like sore thumbs, but we were welcomed in with opened arms.

Besides a single tambourine, there were no musical instruments used when singing hymnals– every sound came from the people in the church. During the homily, otherwise known as the sermon, people shouted Amens after particularly moving words.

My dad felt the need to yell out “Amen” as well, which got a couple of chuckles from the regular churchgoers.

Again in St. John, we were graciously welcomed by the priest. After Mass, he thanked us for coming and told us how great it was that we came to church even on vacation. He also said a special prayer over my brother and I so that we may do well in all of our academic endeavors.

Although the cultures were quite different in the three places we visited, the actual Mass was extremely similar to the ones back home. The settings and attendees were very different, but Catholic Masses have remained similar in every place I have visited.
It is comforting to know that I can travel anywhere in the world and see the Catholic Church follow the same provisions for Mass. It displays the uniformity of Catholicism and gives me a sense of home no matter where I decide to go in the world.