Diocesan News

More Bilingual Skills Needed for Clergy to Serve Chinese Immigrants

The Chinese-speaking community at Regina Pacis Parish has doubled in two years from 75 to 150 parishioners. Clergy who celebrate Mass in Chinese languages say youth programs, like this choir at Regina Pacis, help draw parents to the parish. (Photo: Bill Miller)

DYKER HEIGHTS — To serve the Chinese mission field, one does not have to leave the Diocese of Brooklyn. 

Msgr. John Vesey, who journeyed to China as a missionary with the Maryknoll Society, said there are 500,000 speakers of Chinese who live within the boundaries of the diocese. 

About 3,000 of them attend Mass on Sundays, said Father Vincentius Do, a coordinator of the Ministry to the Chinese Immigrants, and it’s a steadily growing community. 

Father Vincentius Do is pastor of St. Michael Parish in Flushing, Queens and coordinator of the Ministry to the Chinese Immigrants. (Photo: Diocese of Brooklyn)

Take, for example, the Basilica of Regina Pacis Parish in Dyker Heights, where a decade ago, only 10 Chinese-speaking Catholics came to Mass. Two years ago, there were about 75, and today there are 150, according to Father Joseph Lin, parochial vicar for the parish. 

Still, this growth, though steady, is constrained by a lack of bilingual clergy, religious sisters, and volunteers who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. 

Consequently, would-be converts to Catholicism from China have a limited voice in accessing the myriad services offered by the Church, like those tailored to helping immigrants. Examples are Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens and Catholic Migration Services. 

“It really comes down to the language barrier,” Father Do said. “We have all these services available to them, but they don’t make use of them because they can’t communicate. Even when the Church has tried to reach out to them — we priests and sisters — it takes them a while to really trust us. 

Msgr. John Vesey is parochial vicar at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Jamaica, Queens. He is also a former Maryknoll missionary to China (Photo: Bill Miller)

“We have to understand that they are coming from a different background in China. The Church is underground. So they don’t readily come to us. Unless we speak their language, they wouldn’t come to us at all.” 

Many Chinese will go to Chinatown and pay thousands of dollars to the lawyers who speak their language, Msgr. Vesey said, noting that services can be vastly overpriced.

“That’s what it’s all about — the mission,” Msgr. Vesey said. He added a challenge to fellow clergy. 

“If you want to work, come to Brooklyn,” he said. “If you want to relax, go someplace else.”

A Different Evangelization

Father Andrew Tsui, parochial vicar for St. Bartholomew Parish, Elmhurst, said evangelizing Chinese immigrants is an exercise of starting from scratch because in China, “atheism is the state religion.”

Father Tsui pointed out that Latinos who come here are from Christian societies.

“They already have some sense of Christianity, as do those from Africa,” he said. “But the largest immigration population outside of the Latinos is the Chinese population. And, unfortunately, a lot of them don’t know who Jesus is.” 

Father Andrew Tsui is parochial vicar of St. Bartholomew Parish in Elmhurst, Queens. (Photo: Bill Miller)

Father Tsui, who was ordained last year, is the son of immigrants and the first American-born Chinese priest in the diocese. He said reaching Chinese immigrants in the U.S. is complicated by differences in language and culture in China, where each region has its own dialect.

“Most of the newer immigrants speak standard Mandarin, but the older generation from Hong Kong — they speak Cantonese,” he explained. He said it’s “like a duck speaking to a chicken” — a Chinese idiom used to describe two people who can’t communicate because they speak different languages. 

Meanwhile, Father Tsui said, many immigrants have difficulty reading or writing their native languages because education is not free in China: “College is a luxury over there, and it’s very difficult to get in. Even high school is not free.”

Some immigrants only have an elementary school education. Some can’t even read and write in Chinese, or they have limited reading and writing.”

Reaching them, Father Tsui noted, is a very different type of evangelization — one that must be done orally. Which reinforces the need for bilingual preachers and volunteers.

 Know the Bible

Father Lin proudly noted Regina Pacis is preparing 11 Chinese-speaking adult catechumens to receive sacraments at Easter to enter the faith. 

Kyle Chen is one of 11 Chinese-speaking adult catechumens at Basilica of Regina Pacis Parish who will receive sacraments at Easter to complete their conversions to the faith. (Photo: Bill Miller)

Among them is Kyle Chen, 34, who came to the U.S. 20 years ago from Canton, China. There, he knew Catholicism existed, but he only saw glimpses of it, mostly while watching movies from Hong Kong. 

“It is not very popular over there,” said Chen, an elder-care worker on Staten Island. 

A couple of years ago, he started dating his fiancée, Ashley, also an immigrant. But she was baptized a Catholic in China. Her parents insisted that he convert to Catholicism if they were to give their blessing to the marriage. She began taking him to Mass at St. Agatha’s Parish in Sunset Park. 

Now Chen commutes each Sunday to the border of Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to attend Basilica of Regina Pacis, his new parish, where he participates in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. He credited Father Lin for teaching him the faith. 

“We get to know the Bible and the story of the religion,” Chen said. “Father, he makes it fun. He really gets into it.”

 Joy Through Actions

Father Do, pastor at St. Michael Parish in Flushing, served at Regina Pacis from 2007-2015 under the leadership of now-retired pastor Msgr. Ronald Marino. 

The younger priest recalls the early days of Chinese immigrant growth at the parish, which Father Lin has been building upon since 2021. 

Father Joseph Lin, parochial vicar for Regina Pacis, oversees outreach to Chinese-speaking immigrants. He is shown here with a mentor, Pastor Emeritus Msgr. Ronald Marino (left), Sunday, Feb. 19, at a Mass celebrating the 15th anniversary of Father Lin’s ordination in China. (Photo: Bill Miller)

Fathers Do and Lin, who worked together at St. Agatha Parish, agreed that the Church should reach out to immigrants before they become desperate for services. 

To that end, the eight parishes where Mass is celebrated in Chinese — four in Brooklyn and four in Queens — keep a regular schedule of cultural celebrations to appeal to the immigrants’ sense of home and belonging. 

“Msgr. Marino used to say that you reach them through their stomachs,” Father Do said. “Everybody eats, right? They like to gather. They like to celebrate. So we do Chinese New Year celebrations, and we do a mid-autumn festival.” 

Father Lin also keeps a schedule of community outreach programs, including the forays of Chinese-speaking parishioners into the neighborhood to pick up trash and share the Gospel. 

“I tell the people we are the witness of God’s love for our neighbor, and that brings people out,” Father Lin said. “We also do evangelization in the park. We have to bring good news to people, but also share through our actions, through our joy, and through our love.”

 Sharing the Message

Fathers Lin and Do say youth programs are another way to reach parents. 

“We organize workshops for parents, like how to help your kids from having addictions to the computer,” Father Lin said. “People will see the church is a place of joy, of hope, of love.”

Chen has received that message.

“Church is a place to help people,” he said. He then pointed out why people like to attend church because “there’s no such place in China. And when I come, I feel like I should be part of the community.” Chen is quick to invite friends to join him there. 

“On a late Sunday morning, I will say, ‘Hey, guys, anything to do today? Nothing?’ ” he said. “If I get no response, I say, ‘Okay, come to church with me. Come right now.”

“Sometimes,” he added, “we have special events like a clothes drive. I tell them: ‘Come do something meaningful.’ ”


Mass is celebrated in Chinese languages each Sunday at these parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn:


St. Agatha, Sunset Park

Basilica of Regina Pacis, Dyker Heights

Most Precious Blood, Bath Beach

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park


St. Bartholomew, Elmhurst

Mary’s Nativity, Flushing

St Michael, Flushing

St. John Vianney, Flushing