The Boston Chinese Catholic Community welcomed Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley to Chinatown’s St. James the Greater Church Feb. 29, where he celebrated Mass for his first visit to the community.
"We have always had a long-standing invitation to the archbishop to visit us, so when an opening came up in his schedule we were so happy that he could be here," said Laura Chan, the chairwoman of the Boston Chinese Catholic Community.
"This is a happy occasion for us to show how active and vibrant our community is," she said.
Nancy Shrum, 17, who proclaimed the first reading, said when she learned a week prior that she was going to read in front of the archbishop she was nervous. “I read the passage out loud 2 or 3 times, but my Mom said I was too loud.” Shrum, who is a junior at Boston Latin, lives in East Boston.
Chan said that parishioners travel from beyond Routes 495 and 128 to attend the services in Chinatown, even in difficult weather.
More than 100 parishioners sat in folding chairs in the function room next to the doors to the lower church where the Mass was held. Chan said this was the regular attendance because there was no way to publicize the visit on short notice.
The service itself had a distinctly Chinese flavor. Thomas Ng, the community’s music director said he chose festive songs for the choir to mark Archbishop O’Malley’s first visit. All the songs were sung in Chinese.
Husband and wife percussionists Irene and John Wan provided another Chinese touch. While John struck carved and lacquered wooded blocks and a small drum, Irene stood by for the command to punctuate the music with her gong and chimes.
In his homily, Archbishop O'Malley said that, as a student of languages, he noticed that in most languages the word for Lent is derived from the word 40, because of Lent's 40 days. But in English it was different.
"In English, our short, four-letter words are the most powerful: love, hate and our cusswords," he said.
The word Lent is from the Old English word for springtime, he said.
At the end of his homily, the archbishop gestured to Father Anselm Lam, a diocesan priest from Hong Kong studying international politics at Boston College. “Father is now going to translate what I have just said. Obviously, he is more intelligent than me, because he speaks Chinese. I told him to feel free to improve it as he sees fit.”
When Father Lam was finished, Archbishop O’Malley confirmed to the congregation what they may have already known, “It did sound better in Chinese.”
After the Mass, Father Lam kidded that in his translation he improved on the archbishop’s homily, but kept the jokes.
Just before the service ended, Laura Chan thanked the archbishop on behalf of the community.
Chan apologized to the archbishop that there was not enough time to prepare traditional gifts. But her husband Peter Chan had written a poem for the occasion, which she read in Chinese and English. In Chinese, each line begins with a character from the archbishop’s name and title, she said. It reads:
Faith of some shaken by waves of scandal
Fires everywhere erupted in crescendo
Out of darkness His true light reaches
In our Lord we unite and build bridges
From reconfiguration new seedlings planted
In Seán Rebuild My Church chanted
Gallop forth, proud witnesses, without cease
On our shoulders, spread the Good News of Christ Jesus