Local Chinese Catholics Celebrate New Year In Sunset Park Amid Concerns About Virus

By Tim Harfmann

SUNSET PARK — Chinese Catholics from St. Agatha Church, Sunset Park, rang in the Lunar New Year with a Mass on Jan. 26.

“This is the most important day in China,” parishioner Li Zheng said.

“It means happiness for the New Year and new hope for the future year,” Yani Chen, another parishioner, added.

Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski celebrated the bilingual Mass in English and Mandarin. Almost 200 attended the liturgy.

“They are bringing with themselves the deep faith in god and their traditions,” Bish- op Mroziewski said.

Lunar New Year traditions include honoring ancestors with a specially constructed altar. Catholics presented items including fresh fruit symbolizing achievement, flowers representing love and wine symbolizing a sign of life.

Zheng’s daughter, Kayla, described another tradition: “Lucky money! Because in China, adults believe that giving lucky money to children will bring them luck,” she said.

The official celebration of the Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival as it’s known in China, began on Jan. 25 and will culminate locally with the 21st annual Chinese New Year Parade on Feb. 9 in Manhattan’s Chinatown. About 500,000 people attend the parade every year.

Meanwhile, Chinese Catholics in Brooklyn are also concerned for loved ones back in China because the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Large Lunar New Year gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere across Asia were cancelled because of concerns over the virus, which originated in Wuhan, a city in central China.

More than 4,5000 cases have been confirmed in China and other countries, including the United States, and as of Jan. 27, 106 people have died from the virus.

“We pray for them. We worry, but we pray,” Li Zheng said.

“We give all the best wishes for our family and friends,” Chen said.

“Everyone is following the story very closely,” said Fr. Vincentius T. Do, pastor at St. Agatha’s.

“We are praying very hard for the safety of everyone in China. We have been offering prayers and rosaries, and this week, we will have a holy hour after Mass every day to pray for the safety of those in China.”