Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Yesterday I went to St. Leo the Great Parish to celebrate the Chinese New Year Mass in my old neighborhood.  Sally, a friend of Maryknoll had invited me saying she thought it was important to attend because of the special relationship between China and Maryknoll (it was the first Mission over 100 years ago).  Other than Bishops Cordileone and Cummins and one other priest, I was the only non-Asian person and nearly everything was in Mandarin, a language about which I studied for 2 semesters and never mastered even the basics.  I was warmly welcomed by several people including priests and soon felt comfortable.  I reflected on how important it is to feel accepted when in an unfamiliar environment and whether I do enough to welcome the strangers in my midst. 
 Bp. Cordileone delivered the homily.  He mentioned the hardships that the Chinese people endure in their country trying to live their Catholic faith and conceded that the people sitting in the pews could deliver his homily better than he could.  We have so much freedom here in the U.S., despite our problems with leadership and financial corruption. Being reminded of how our brothers and sisters around the world struggle just to practice their faith puts things into perspective. Just as Catholics struggle to practice their faith in China, so many more struggle to earn a just wage in a just working environment that won't leave them crippled or so despondent they lose the will to even live.  I grappled with how my lifestyle in my country perpetuates their suffering in their country.

I didn't understand the lyrics but the choir and music was so sublime, it just didn't matter; I knew they were singing praises to the God we all worship.  At the end of Mass, there were thanks expressed to the musicians, choir, bishops, and last but not least, to God.  Yes, with smiling faces turned upwards, God received a rousing round of applause! 
 Then came the traditional ceremony that honors the ancestors.  A gentleman explained that Catholics do not engage in ancestor worship, that only God is worshiped, but that ancestors can still be honored.  A chant was then recited in Mandarin and the priests and bishops gathered around a special altar with incense and a ritual took place to honor all the ancestors.  I reflected on all the Maryknollers who have gone before us, especially those who served in China, and felt a remarkable connection! Upon leaving, the bishops handed out the traditional red envelopes with a dollar inside to ensure everyone would have a prosperous Year of the Dragon!  Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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