by Sister Monica (Ping Hui) Gan, C.S.T.
Chinese New Year is Tuesday, Feb. 5 and it is the most important festival for Chinese people. It is like Thanksgiving Day for Americans.
A family get-together is essential, and at this gathering, a red envelope is given which is most exciting: It symbolizes good luck, good health and wealth. Without a family gathering and red envelopes, Chinese New Year feels incomplete. So St. John Vianney parish in Flushing makes Chinese New Year a very big deal.
St. John Vianney parish’s main population is Chinese, and many members are new immigrants. Like other immigrants, they are overwhelmingly hard workers. Because they lack English language skills, and many have an illegal status, their job opportunities are limited and not stable. Many come to the U.S. alone, leaving behind their parents, spouse or children. They cannot return to their parents who are dying. They cannot reunite with a spouse or children on special occasions. They bear a heavy burden – emotionally and physically.
For Chinese Catholics, church is a big family where they can find peace, comfort, strength and faith. Living in a foreign country, one of the most important things for them to find is a church community. They may not stay with the church for practical reasons. Yet, they come back for big holidays and whenever they have a chance. Therefore, the church is also somewhat like a hut in the desert; people can take some water and a little rest after their hard traveling.
Whether it is a home or a hut in the desert, St. John Vianney Church clearly sees its role and mission. Jesus says, “Put out into the deep,” and the parish tries its best to meet the needs of Chinese immigrants as a family and an agent of Jesus.
Every year, the church warmly welcomes parishioners, their relatives and neighbors – Catholic or not – to a Chinese New Year celebration. There is good entertainment and delicious food, and each person is happy to receive a red envelope, which represents not only good luck and health, but also the love and blessings of God.
Besides the brand new dollar bill inside each envelope, there is a typed sentence from the Bible in both Chinese and English. Some examples are: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12); and “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.” (Psalms 91:11). People love the sentences. They see them as words sent from God to give them light and strength.
Small acts of kindness have the power to bear great fruit. One meal may not mean much. A red envelope with a dollar bill and a line from the Bible may be of little importance. But these acts can comfort lonely hearts, strengthen weakness and bring light to the darkness.
Sister Monica is the pastoral associate at St. John Vianney parish, Flushing.