Amid fears about the future of immigration policy in this country, a festive atmosphere still filled the streets of Sunset Park in honor of Lunar New Year last weekend. Colorful lions danced, red envelopes were gifted and Fai Chun hung in doorways to welcome luck and prosperity in the Year of the Rooster.
Combining culture with faith, several hundred residents of all ages crowded into Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s lower church to mark the new year at the 11:45 a.m. Chinese Mass Jan. 29. A celebration with lion dances, traditional food and entertainment followed in Notre Dame Hall.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio presided over the bilingual liturgy in vibrant red and gold vestments. Father Kangqiang (Joseph) Lu, who ministers to the parish’s Chinese community, preached the homily in Mandarin.
“As we begin this new Year of the Rooster, we recognize that this is a year when we look for good health and good luck,” the bishop told the people.
“Jesus taught us about real happiness. It does not depend upon being lucky or unlucky. Real happiness comes only when you’re one with God.”
While visitors and guests were among the congregation, the people in the pews were largely parishioners from the weekly Chinese Mass. Most are Catholic, noted Father James Gilmour, C.Ss.R., pastor, but there are also Christians, Buddhists and others still learning about the Catholic faith.
Father Norman Bennett, C.Ss.R., who celebrates Mass in Cantonese at the parish once monthly, began reaching out to local Chinese when they started settling in the area in the early 1990s. That ministry has grown with the help of Vietnamese Father Peter Cao, C.Ss.R., Sister Theresa Wong and Father Lu.
And evangelization efforts have been fruitful with almost two-dozen parishioners of Asian/Chinese descent becoming full members of the Catholic Church through the RCIA process each year. Around 20 Chinese parishioners are currently preparing to enter the Church at this year’s Easter Vigil.
Advocate for Immigrants
Father Gilmour was proud to welcome Bishop DiMarzio to OLPH, and made a point of introducing him to the congregation as a nationally known “advocate for immigrant communities.”
“Our immigrant community is very nervous right now. We’re all nervous,” Father Gilmour said. “We have a lot of undocumented parishioners here in OLPH, in both the Hispanic and Chinese communities.”
He estimates that more than half the population of Sunset Park is now Asian/Chinese, and many are undocumented. Older Hispanic/Latino residents who have been longtime parishioners are in the same situation.
“New York City is a sanctuary city but… what do we do if all of a sudden families are broken up because of the new administration,” he said. Living in constant fear of deportation is “a terrible situation for people.”
He asked the congregation to pray “for God’s blessing and protection on the immigrants in this country,” and “for God’s guidance for the new administration to be just and compassionate for all people.”
Putting their trust in God, parishioners then celebrated the new year with hope and faith, singing hymns and listening to readings proclaimed in their native tongue.
In his homily, Father Lu urged his countrymen to commit themselves toward personal growth, hard work and achieving true happiness in relationship with God this year.
“A rooster is like an alarm, it makes people wake up,” he said, referencing the Year of the Rooster. “For Christians, we need to wake up in God; don’t lose heart.”
He suggested reading the Bible everyday to wake up to God’s Word. “That’s an alarm for everybody,” he said.
The colorful lion and a beating drum then led the procession to the parish hall to continue the festivities. Groups of children and adults sang and danced on stage while more than 600 people feasted on rice, noodles, vegetables, chicken and fruit.
Support and Good Wishes
Parishioner Tony Coppola was happy to be part of the celebration with his Chinese brothers and sisters. He and other Hispanic parishioners attended to show their support.
“Right now, we’re going through a difficult time with immigration and this is bringing our community all together,” he said. “We are one parish and we should be one family so we’re here to wish the Chinese community well.”
Ling Yau beamed as she looked around the parish hall at friends and neighbors gathered together. A native of Hong Kong, she joined Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish five years ago because she, like other Chinese natives, feel welcome there.
“We love this church,” she said. “Some of our brothers and sisters don’t speak English,” but they’ve found a place where they can speak and be understood in their mother language.
When asked what she wished for in the year ahead, she said, “Good luck for our family, our nation, and hope.”
Related: NET-TV’s Coverage