During a time when China is cracking down on religion, hundreds of Chinese, Korean, Spanish and English-speaking Catholics faithfully celebrated the 10th annual procession in Flushing in honor of Our Lady of She-Shan, in solidarity with Chinese Catholics around the world.
“This is actually not only a devotion to ourselves but actually an evangelization to our public,” said Deacon Stanley Tam from St. John Vianney parish, “to let people know that we are Catholic, we are here, we are Chinese and we stand with the Catholic community.”
Throughout the streets May 6, a large group of men held on their shoulders a life-size wooden statue of Our Lady of She-Shan. Standing on top of a bed of flowers and hand-written notes in Chinese was Mary and above her head, she held the infant Jesus who joyfully held out his arms of salvation with the triumphant sign of the cross.
Whether it was the colorful banners handwritten in Mandarin, children in dragon-red cultural costumes, young women in traditional silk dancing dresses, the sound of beating drums or the reciting of the rosary, it was the joy of the community and their love for the Blessed Mother that pulsated through the march.
The Chinese represent one of the largest groups of current immigrants to the diocese. While this year’s catechumens represented 102 diocesan parishes, the largest numbers came from immigrant Chinese communities at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park; St. John Vianney and St. Michael, both in Flushing.
The Korean population at St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang, Flushing, at one time had 41 people preparing to fully enter the faith at the Easter vigil. All four parishes and their diverse communities were represented during the day’s festivities.
“The beautiful thing is that all of our communities come out to pray for the Church in China,” said Father John Vesey, pastor at St. Michael’s. “One inspires the other. I think this is wonderful and our people being a part of this, it just inspires them to be a little bit more faithful in what we’re doing. So it’s a beautiful thing.”
The procession made stops at St. Michael’s, and at St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang. Auxiliary Bishop James Massa offered a blessing to the faithful gathered and incensed the statue. For every waft of incense that the bishop placed, colorful pops of paper petals immersed into the air. For Bishop Massa, the celebration recalled the day the Catholic Church began.
“All these little petals of paper were let off with a big bang and that kind of reminded me of the tongues of fire of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles and our Blessed Mother,” said Bishop Massa.
“China is experiencing a tremendous religious revival right now. But because of the restrictions on the Catholic Church we’re not seeing the same kind of growth that other Christian communities are having.
“We hope that it’ll guarantee the religious freedom of our Catholic brothers and sisters there and the human rights of all Chinese. There’s plenty of hope China will emerge as a real center for Christianity in the 21st century.”
For Cornelia Tian, immigrant and new parishioner at St. John Vianney, her parish community keeps her grounded in faith.
“Well this is a special occasion for us because we are new to the country, new to the area,” said Tian. “This is actually the second time I’m at this procession and I feel great to join the community.”
The procession included members of St. Joseph’s Knights of Columbus, contingents from Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Theresa, both in Manhattan, where large numbers of Chinese worship.
The procession ended where it began at St. John Vianney church, where Mass was celebrated in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Korean.
Longtime parishioner Franklyn Mahabir, who has attended every procession for Our Lady of She-Shan since it began in 2008, has seen the cultural revival within his parish. He shared his gratitude to pastor Father Antonius Ho, C.S.J.B., and parochial vicar, Father Victor Cao, C.S.J.B.
“We have seen the hard work that they have done, encouraging and asking us, the English community as well as the Spanish, to welcome and encourage them and we have,” said Mahabir.
“It’s been a real pleasure to see them grow and get to this point so that we can celebrate together as a community. Because you’re talking about 1.4 billion people in China and they just have 12 million Christians,” he added.