The Asian Catholics Aren't Coming - They're Here Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 22 June 2007 07:16
Rocco over at Whispers has posted a fascinating essay this morning

Just in case anyone hasn't realized it yet, American Catholicism's changing, folks -- and the ground is, literally, shifting right beneath our feet.

At least, that proved to be the case for me a few months back.

As winter bore down on the East, I slipped into a Sunday evening Mass at a neighborhood parish in Queens. The English liturgy began in its upper church at 5.30. At the same time, one in Tagalog was getting underway downstairs.

The Anglo Mass was what, unfortunately, passes as the norm these days: the sparse crowd, ho-hum, "get me outta here" kinda deal. But in the lower church, its counterpart for the local Filipino community began with no less than 20 minutes of singing, during which their roof (our ground) was actually... vibrating.

By the time the opening hymn was done downstairs, we were midway through the Creed. Maybe -- just maybe -- they were preparing for the Gospel as the English-speaking celebrant was out the door.

Moral of the story: sure, US Catholicism's Anglo contingent remains its dominant ethnic group (at least, as of this writing). But just as with the Hispanic core which will soon overtake the old immigration in numbers, the energy, the future -- and, it must be said, the hope -- of the enterprise on these shores is taking its lead on a massive scale from the increasingly-emergent Asian communities, especially those of Vietnamese and Filipino heritage, marked by firm cohesion, joyful spirit, and a spirit of devotion and love for their faith as strong as summer's first day is long.

It's not just catholicity at work -- it's what's happening right in our midst. And we better start paying attention.

To offer but a handful of examples: though Asian-Americans comprise but 3% of the nation's 70 million Catholics, the community pulled nearly four times its weight in its number of the US' priestly ordinands this year; with 11% of the candidates of Asian-Pacific birth, the group was tied with Mexico at the second-largest provider of the country's priesthood class for the year. The Filipino custom of the Simbang Gabi -- the annual pre-Christmas novena traditionally held before the break of dawn for the nine days -- has come to equal "packed-to-the-rafters" congregations in the places where it's held (including, as of SG'06, 114 of the archdiocese of Los Angeles' 280-odd parishes); same goes for the numerable places that hold weekly devotions to the NiƱo de Cebu, the Black Nazarene, or the other patrons of the islands.

And for all the ink and Klieg lights that focus on the 10,000 of all ethnicities who show up for the annual Roe Eve Mass for Life in Washington and the 40,000 gone to Disneyland for LA's Religious Education Congress, the States' largest Catholic gathering is actually "Marian Days," when no fewer than 70,000 -- repeat: 70,000 -- Vietnamese-American Catholics converge on Carthage, Missouri for three days in August. (The event celebrates its 30th anniversary this year from August 2-5.)

Sherry's note: So how come I've never heard of Marian days?

Here's a nice article on this celebration in the Ozarks of Missouri. Globalization indeed! (and of our own creation)

Fleeing to new land "The church in Vietnam wrote her history with her own blood," reads a caption at a campus center that honors Vietnamese martyrs. The Co-Redemptrix community shared that legacy.

When Saigon fell, about 185 community members piled into boats and sailed east.
An American cargo ship picked them up and, after a time, authorities brought
them to Fort Chafee, Ark.

The bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese heard of their plight and
gave them an unused seminary in Carthage. After faltering initially, the
congregation has rebounded to more than 200 priests and brothers.
Father Anthony McGuire of the National Catholic Bishops' Conference, who
oversees pastoral care for migrants and refugees, compares the community to the
Poles, who suffered under Nazi and Communist oppression.

"That tends to draw people together. You see that in Carthage," he said.
Brother Thomas Dien puts it this way: "These are people who lived a hard life.
They need something to lean on. They may have come with no job, no money. So
they lean on their faith."

The congregation started Marian Days to thank Mary for her protection. About
1,700 attended the inaugural event. Early accounts describe picketing and taunts
from local residents.

Dien says some neighbors have moved, in part, to avoid the hubbub of the
festival. Several complain of traffic. Some homeowners blanket their front yards
with bright red "Keep Out" signs.

For the most part, however, the event has become part of the town's heritage,
like the Civil War battlefield nearby. Carthage has created a citywide holiday,
Vietnamese Day, even though the number of Vietnamese residents still is
relatively small. Townspeople visit to sample the gantlet of food tents. Several
neighbors even open their front yards for camping.

An Le of Joplin said only about a third of the 250 event participants from his
hometown are Catholic. The rest are Buddhist or of other religions. He said the
event highlights their similarities, not their conflicts.
"We all have the same struggles," he said.

And organizers are amazed at how Marian Days bridges the gap between
first-generation Vietnamese and their U.S.-born children.

My very first job out of college was Indochinese refugee resettlement but I hadn't yet grasped the nature of the spiritual journey I was already on and never dreamed that I might be helping to bring to this country the seeds of our Catholic future.