April 24, 2015

The universality of our Church: Mass for Asian and Pacific Island Catholics celebrates ‘how good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity’

Hoa Truong and her husband, Toan Tran, members of the Vietnamese Catholic Community at St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis, kneel during the Asian and Pacific Islander Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on April 12. They are wearing traditional Vietnamese native garb, called ao dai, for the special Mass. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Hoa Truong and her husband, Toan Tran, members of the Vietnamese Catholic Community at St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis, kneel during the Asian and Pacific Islander Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on April 12. They are wearing traditional Vietnamese native garb, called ao dai, for the special Mass. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Pray Nmeh, a 15-year-old member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, lived the first 10 years of her life in a refugee camp in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. She and five of her family members moved to Indianapolis five years ago.

On April 12, she and her family took great joy in worshipping at Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

It was the first ever Asian and Pacific Islander Mass celebrated in the archdiocese. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant. (Related: See a photo gallery from the Mass)

But for Pray, it was also the first Mass she had shared with some very dear people in more than five years.

“My grandfather and two of my uncles just came [from Myanmar] last week,” she said with a smile, laying a hand on her grandfather’s arm.

It was a joyous reunion for Pray’s family—and an opportunity for unity among the Catholic Asian American communities in central and southern Indiana.

After the Mass, during a reception that followed at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center, Archbishop Tobin told the standing-room-only crowd that Pope Francis has placed a strong emphasis on the Church in Asia.

“He has visited Asia more than he has visited Europe,” the archbishop said. “He went to show his support for Asian Catholics and their mission.

“I think if Pope Francis called me, he would ask, ‘Archbishop Tobin, what are you doing for the Asian Catholics in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis?’

“We are trying. With your help we will do more.”

The special Asian and Pacific Islander Mass was one that Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, director of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry, hopes to see happen annually.

“As a matter of fact, they all want this to happen every year,” he said. “Each of these communities has developed their own very well organized ministry, but coming together gives them a different sense of being Church—the Asian American Church in the archdiocese.”

Brother Moises said it is recognition of the universality of the Church that prompted the Mass.

“One of the reasons the archdiocese hosted this Mass was to help people in central and southern Indiana become more aware of our Catholicism—universality—right here in the archdiocese,” he explained. “It is a great treat when we experience the universality of the Church. We want to help people experience ‘how good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity’ [Ps 133:1].”

Brother Moises said the Mass was also intended to “validate the identity of the Asian American Catholic community and each of the countries represented.

“We validate their culture, their faith and their identity,” he said. “The fact that the archdiocese hosted this Mass is a great sign that recognizes their presence, a sign that the archdiocese values and appreciates their presence.”

Brother Moises feels that goal of validation was a success.

“They all got so many compliments about their traditional dresses, about their food, about their faith, about their language, about who they are,” he said.

Indeed, the chairs of the cathedral were a spectrum of vibrant colors from the native garb of the various cultures. Scripture and the petitions were read in different languages, and some ethnic community choirs sang hymns in their native tongue.

The intercultural celebration continued at the reception, where homemade cuisine from each country was shared.

Archbishop Tobin, who said “thank you” at the end of Mass in the various languages of those present, spoke to the crowd at the reception about the importance of worshipping in one’s native language.

“My grandparents came from a little island called Ireland,” he said. “My grandparents spoke English, but when they prayed, they prayed in the language of the Irish—my grandmother said she wasn’t sure if God understood English!

“So I think it’s good that in the archdiocese we are able to pray in many languages.”

Hearing those many languages touched Maria Manalang, a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, the Filipino choir director and the coordinator for the Filipino Ministry of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry.

“Hearing the different prayers in different languages—there’s something that touches you inside,” she said. “It’s heartfelt for that person from that ethnicity to hear their language. You know their words are coming from the heart.

“And to celebrate at the cathedral with the archbishop—who could ask for more?” she added with a smile.

Vu Hong, a member of the Vietnamese Catholic Community at St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis, felt that “the Mass was just beautiful, and everyone seemed so happy here.”

Maria Choy agreed, and noted the appropriateness of the time of the Mass.

“We are all sons and daughters of Jesus,” said the member of the Korean Catholic Community in Indianapolis. “We all come together to make one community. I think that’s great to do, especially in the Easter season.”

For Pray, who is a freshman at North Central High School in Indianapolis, the intercultural Mass was a new experience.

“I’ve never seen so many people get together,” she said. “In my country, at Mass we only have my kind of people [those of the Karenni tribe], so this is really special to have so many kinds of people together.” Myanmar is a tribe-based country where citizens identify themselves more by their people than by their nationality.

“Our church [in Myanmar] was built up on a mountain,” she added. “So we had to go up and down the mountain every Sunday.

“There are so many differences between there and here. Almost everything is different.”

Regardless of cultural differences, Archbishop Tobin reminded those present at the reception of their unity as Catholics, and the source of that unity.

“I think it is important for us to realize that Jesus Christ is here in our midst with his words, with his sacrament and in our community,” he said.

“You enrich our Church, and I pray for you every day.” †

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