Asian Catholic communities celebrate heritage with Cardinal O'Malley

DORCHESTER -- Faith is not something that Father Joseph Linh T. Nguyen, pastor of the St. Ambrose-St. Mark Collaborative in Dorchester, takes for granted. Like many Vietnamese Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston, his family came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution.

"When we come here, we treasure and we honor the tradition and gift that our great grandparents, grandparents, and parents left to us," he said.

Father Linh has heard similar stories in other Asian communities in the archdiocese. He believes that, especially for those who came from persecution, Boston's Asian American Catholics are united by their culture of faith and family.

That culture was celebrated on May 11, when the Archdiocese of Boston's Asian communities participated in a Marian procession at St. Mark Parish in Dorchester in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, followed by Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

"We are very blessed to have so many wonderful, different ethnic groups in our diocese that help to reflect the diversity of the church," the cardinal said in his homily. "We are the Catholic faith, which means universal."

The annual celebration, organized by the Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship, takes place in a different parish each year. Father Linh was delighted to have his parish chosen for the event.

"It's an honor, it's a joy, and this is a great sign of the unity and the diversity that we have," he said. "We're celebrating our heritage in union with the whole church. This is who we are, the church of Boston."

Hundreds of faithful marched through the streets of Dorchester, bearing the flags of their home countries and carrying images of those countries' saints and martyrs. Father Linh estimated that seven countries were represented. Members of the Filipino community carried an opulent golden image of Our Lady of Penafrancia, while members of the Vietnamese community carried an elaborate float topped with a statue of Our Lady of La Vang, a Marian apparition during the persecution of Catholics in Vietnam at the end of the 18th century. Parishioners from St. James the Greater in Boston's Chinatown and St. Antoine Daveluy Parish in Newton, representing the Archdiocese of Boston's Chinese and Korean communities, also participated. All the while, they prayed the rosary and sang hymns in their respective languages.

"It's a collaborative effort," Father Linh said. "It's a lot of work put into it."

Bringing up the rear of the procession was Bishop Cristiano Barbosa. Cardinal O'Malley met the procession in the church.

At the end of the procession, the faithful, Bishop Barbosa, and his fellow priests entered St. Mark's to the sound of the organ and choir, made up of singers from the Filipino community at St. Anne Parish in Salem. The church quickly became packed.

Before Mass began, Archdiocese of Boston Director of Multicultural Ministries Wendy Mejia thanked Asian Catholic community leaders for coming together to plan the event, and thanked Father Linh "for opening the doors to St. Mark's Church and allowing all the communities to come together as one in Christ."

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley pointed out the diversity of images of Mary that each community had brought to St. Mark's.

"Every country, every linguistic and ethnic group in the church, has a Virgin Mary who is special to us," he said.

He joked that due to the number of titles she has, Mary has the same first name, but different last names everywhere in the world.

"Mary is a point of unity in the church," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley said that Mary is so important because she says 'yes' to God, which is what God wants all people to do. The cardinal lamented the stereotype of Catholics as "people of no -- don't do this, don't do that." To him, Catholics are people who "say yes to God, yes to love, yes to the cross, yes to life."

"Mary is the woman of yes," he said. "Her first word, that 'yes,' changed the course of history. And when we say 'yes,' we're opening that door to allow God's light into our hearts and into the world."

The cardinal described the Gospels as creating a contrast between the "crowd," which rejects people, and the "community," which welcomes them.

"We turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to help us on this path of prayer to transform a crowd of indifferent individuals into a community of brothers and sisters who care for each other, who forgive each other, who love each other," he said.

He recalled that when he was a child, his favorite story in the Gospels was when the paralytic man was brought to Jesus. The crowd wouldn't let the paralytic man into the house where Jesus was, so his friends made a hole in the roof, tied a rope around the man, and lowered him to Jesus. The young Cardinal O'Malley wanted friends like that, and to be a friend like that.

"That's what Jesus wants us to do," he said, "to be a community that helps people draw closer to the Lord. We know that sometimes when there are linguistic differences, ethnic differences, that tensions can rise."

The cardinal sees Jesus's prayer "that all may be one" as a solution to those tensions.

"The unity that exists among all the people in the church and all the groups and languages, races, and nationalities," he said, "this is a sign... And that is why we want to celebrate the beautiful gifts that each of the communities brings to the body of Christ."

After Cardinal O'Malley's homily, the Prayers of the Faithful were read in Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and English, with special prayers for Asian Americans and the Archdiocese of Boston's Asian communities. After Mass, a reception was held outside the church with traditional food from China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.