‘SUNSET PARK — If there was one moment that convinced Father Song You, C.Ss.R., to become a priest, it was years ago when, after attending a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, he observed an elderly Chinese couple approach a priest there, seeking to confess their sins.
A language barrier had prevented the couple from going to confession. The priest, who wasn’t Asian, did speak Cantonese, but the couple spoke a different dialect — one that, fortunately, Song You also spoke.
“I had been thinking about the priesthood before, but when I saw the disappointment on their faces, I said to myself, ‘Why not give it a try?’ I think that was the beginning. I feel I’m here to fill a need,” Father You said.
The majority of parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (O.L.P.H.) are Hispanic but the church has a sizable — and growing — Chinese population and Father You, who was born in China, is sure to have an impact.
His ordination took place at a time of heightened concern for the safety of Asian-Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — first discovered in China. NYPD statistics show that hate crimes against Asians increased by 395% in 2021. There were 104 anti-Asian attacks reported to the police between Jan. 1 and July 11 this year. During the same time period in 2020, there were 21.
Father You was ordained by Auxiliary Bishop Bruce A. Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., of the Archdiocese of Baltimore at O.L.P.H. on July 24. The parish is served by Redemptorist priests under the congregation’s Baltimore Province.
In his homily, Bishop Lewandowski repeated the story of Father You’s encounter with the elderly Chinese couple.
“You heard in their need a call — call to religious life. You were open to becoming someone other than yourself. You will be a great source of hope and salvation for God’s people,” he told the new priest.
But the Mass had a joyful atmosphere as dozens of Redemptorist priests and a large crowd of family and O.L.P.H. parishioners came to see Father You’s big moment.
The Redemptorists, officially called the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, is a religious congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to working with the poor and marginalized.
“And that includes the immigrant community,” Father You said in an interview prior to his ordination.
Father You arrived at O.L.P.H. in June after completing his pre-ordination studies and has been assigned to serve there.
His arrival at O.L.P.H. signaled a homecoming of sorts. He attended Mass there as a teenager with his parents and siblings when they moved to the U.S. from their native China.
Father You walked into O.L.P.H. for the first time when he was an 18-year-old student at Fort Hamilton High School. He remembered being impressed that the church offered a Mass in Mandarin.
“This was the first church in New York where I attended a Chinese Mass. so I regard it as my mother church,” he said.
Growing up in Communist China with parents who were devout Catholics had a major influence on him. “It’s interesting because of the situation in China at that time, the church was underground. Our house was a temporary shelter for priests to stay,” he said.
Father James Gilmour, C.Ss.R., pastor of O.L.P.H., said Father You will be an asset.
“He’ll be here as a parish priest, particularly with the Chinese community but not exclusively with the Chinese,” Father Gilmour said. “He’ll be doing Masses in English and Chinese. We’re happy to have him.”