St. Casimir Church has become a bit more homey since Father Czeslaw Krysa set up a display celebrating the domestic Church. The exhibit is meant to remind people the first church was in the home.
Father Krysa, rector of St. Casimir's, has delved into his personal collection of artifacts to create the Family Faith International exhibit. As the name implies the items come from around the world and represent different faiths. Each of the four sections of the exhibit represents a different element of faith, including light, food, images and beads.
"These are ways to very simply celebrate the faith at home," Father Krysa said.
Light is represented by an Indian oil lamp with a flower embossed upon it, a Jewish menorah and Christmas bulbs, which traditionally represent Christ as our light.
The food section has cookbooks centered around saints' feast days, a Polish oplatek or Christmas wafer, a Jewish plate engraved with the names of the foods that are served at Passover, and a Russian paska mold used for Easter cheese.
"They would take flavored cheeses, with sometimes fruit in it, sweet, mold it into this pyramid. It has 'Christ is risen' symbols on it and Passion symbols," Father Krysa explained.
It also includes a loaf of Polish and Ukrainian harvest bread that has symbols of the Eucharist on it and is eaten at harvest time and weddings.
A Koran, which Muslims would use at home for prayer, serves as a centerpiece for images. A keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian men's headscarf; a German Lutheran Advent calendar, a Native American smudge pot, and Easter eggs fill out the section.
The large collection of beads includes rosaries and a variety of prayer beads from other faiths. A set of Greek prayer beads is blue and white with a small basketball included to appeal to young people. Another set includes 99 beads used by Muslims to recite the 99 attributes of Allah.
"I saw men in Jerusalem walking through the streets praying with these openly, not something privately, locked up in the house. It's very public and it's a sign of devotion," said Father Krysa.
Knots in a Jewish prayer shawl serve the same purpose as beads. Father Krysa recalled his mother having a similar prayer shawl made with beads woven into it, after losing her rosaries.
One display case holds the four most important rosaries in Father Krysa's family. One of amber dating from the 1920s, one he bought for his mother in Washington while in eighth grade, one his father had bought his first time back in Czestochowa, Poland, after the World War II, and one his mother received from Blessed John Paul II.
Atop the display cases rest statues from Quebec that typically would be seen in a family's home.
St. Casimir's social center, once the cafeteria of Bishop Ryan High School, now has the look and feel of a family room with table lamps used instead of overhead fluorescent lights. Images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a nursing mother hang on the wall.
"In almost every Italian or Polish home, you would have this picture, because the people believe wherever the nursing mother was, you'd never die of hunger, because Mary would always give something to feed us," Father Krysa explained. "We wanted to have a place where people could encounter the fact that God lives among them. Those pictures are not decorations; they are a reminder of a relationship with that particular saint or the Blessed Mother or Jesus at home."
The concept of the domestic Church, in which the parents are the first heralds of faith, has entertained Father Krysa for some time. He did his doctoral studies on traditions of the domestic Church in Polonia. As the son of a Polish immigrant, the religious traditions from the old country remained in his house. Often while decorating the family Christmas tree, his grandfather would tell how he sang carols over a piece of wheat, which represented the bread of life.
"I grew up with stuff like this. If for me faith was only going to church on Sunday, I probably wouldn't even be a priest," Father Krysa said. "Immigrants, and your talking not just from Polish immigrants, come with these riches with them. That part doesn't always make the transition into the American lifestyle."
He points out that while prayer is still common, lighting a candle or holding a rosary involves action, which young people can latch on to. The typical teenage bedroom has posters of rock stars on the walls because teens need something physical, more than a concept, to focus their attention and make the idea come alive.
"This opens the imagination of people and kids to see that God is not just some 45 minutes on a weekend," Father Krysa said. "Our kids have fallen in love with the rosary. We say the rosary every Sunday after Mass with them. The servers carry the rosaries when they serve, because kids all have to have something tangible, not ideas only. They'll get ideas when they get into college, but they first have to have something tangible. Whether it is lighting the Christmas tree and saying, 'Christ is our light' or whether it is eating a particular type of bread or food or honoring their patron saint, they have to have something tangible."
The Family Faith International exhibit is currently open for viewing during all of St. Casimir's social events.