As Andre performed a rhythmic beat on the African drum between his legs, his eyes were closed yet the joy and pride he felt in bringing the sounds of his birthplace to his fellow classmates were unmistakable.
“Kum adendé. Kum adendé!” sang the sixth-grade classmates of Andre, who came to the U.S. from Ghana ten years ago.
The vibrant scene was one of many memorable moments on Friday, January 10, as Bishop Robert P. Deeley took a world tour planned and created by the students of St. James School in Biddeford.
Upon arrival, Bishop Deeley was issued a “passport,” which, by the end of the day, was filled with stamps as each classroom had been transformed into a different country as part of a world tour for the bishop and his traveling party: Monsignor Rene Mathieu, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Saco; Fr. Brad Morin, parochial vicar of the parish; Suzanne Lafreniere, public policy director for the diocese; Marianne Pelletier, the superintendent of Maine Catholic Schools; and Nancy Naimey, principal of St. James.
The tour began with our neighbors to the north, Canada, showcased with signs and pictures made by the pre-kindergarteners, who also shared facts with the bishop.
“Canada has the most lakes in the world!” enthusiastically reported one girl.
One of the interesting features of the tour was that a St. James student had a connection or hailed from each country highlighted.
In Ethiopia, the third graders sang a traditional song and the students, including Malique, delivered an informative presentation. Malique wore the very shirt that his dad had on when he arrived in Maine in 1995 at the age of six. One of the facts offered was that Ethiopian classrooms sometimes hold 100 students.
“Whoa, we are lucky,” commented Katherine, another third grader.
In the Republic of the Philippines (eighth grade), the bishop scored 100% on a quiz given by the students after their report on the country’s history, religion, food, and culture. He was also able to enjoy a piece of Filipino Christmas sweetbread which is a sign of honor in the country.
In fifth grade, the bishop received another snack from Igor, whose mother and father are from Brazil.
“This is, Brigadeiro, a Brazilian dessert that my mom makes,” said Igor, who offered one of the treats that resembled a bonbon to the bishop.
In kindergarten, South Korean decorations and wall art were visible throughout the classroom. The mother of Emily, one of the kindergartners, is a native of South Korea who was adopted and brought to the U.S. In first grade, Josiah proudly wore a shirt displaying the geography and flag of Zambia, where his mother grew up.
A trip to Ireland with the seventh graders was a homecoming of sorts for the bishop, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from County Galway, Ireland, and in Italy (fourth grade), Bishop Deeley was able to add some context to the presentation.
“Have you ever been to Italy?” asked a student.
“Many times, in fact, I lived there for over ten years!” answered the bishop to the incredulous looks of the students.
The second graders read a traditional folk tale from India to the bishop and shared a slew of fun facts they had uncovered during their research.
“The game of chess was invented there,” said Simmone, who is a native of India along with one of her classmates, Shubek.
Observing different traditions from around the world and connecting them with their fellow classmates and friends struck a powerful chord in St. James students.
“I don’t know your name. We speak different languages,” sang the student body in unison during a prayer service with the bishop. “We may not be the same, but I reach out my hands to you.”