by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Scriptures tell of God’s people suffering persecution and exile — things the Chin community of St. Patrick Parish here know well.
And they also tell of the triumph of faith — the current experience of the Chin here.
On June 18, members of the Chin community celebrated the 10th anniversary of its establishment at St. Patrick Parish.
The anniversary Mass was held in the St. Patrick Parish center, and afterward there was a Burmese dinner in the St. Patrick School cafeteria.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist.
Myanmar clergy concelebrating were Bishop Lucius Hre Kung, Diocese of Hakha in Myanmar (Burma); St. Patrick Chin Community minister Father Michael Van Lian; Father Thawng Cem “Eustace” Thang, Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Indiana; Father Pius Chung, Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Fathers Theodore Khin and Theodore Chrysostom Ahmaung, both of the Diocese of Wichita.
Also concelebrating from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas were St. Patrick associate pastor Father William Dun-Dery, retired St. Patrick pastor Msgr. Michael Mullen and Father Joseph Arsenault, SSA.
Assisting were seminarian Paul Thuantho, Diocese of Kalamazoo, and Deacon Philip Nguyen, Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
It was a bilingual Mass. The music and people’s responses were in the Chin dialect, while the celebrants and concelebrants spoke English. Archbishop Naumann gave his homily in English, followed by Father Lian’s translation in Chin.
“Ten years ago, the leaders of the Chin Catholic community approached (then-pastor) Msgr. Michael Mullen about the possibility of a Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s,” said Archbishop Naumann. “Monsignor was impressed by the desire of the leaders of the Chin community to preserve their Catholic faith. And under Msgr. Mullen’s leadership, St. Patrick Parish eagerly welcomed the Chin community.
“I’m also very grateful to Bishop Lucius from the Diocese of Hakha for sending an outstanding priest, Father Michael Lian, to provide pastoral care for the Chin community, as well as the Karenni community in our archdiocese. . . . Under Father Lian’s leadership, the Chin Catholic community has flourished at St. Patrick’s.”
After the Mass, four Myanmar religious Sisters — one from California, three from Florida — led a Chin children’s choir. Each non-Chin cleric, including St. Patrick pastor Father Mark Mertes, were presented gifts of colorful Chin jackets. A certificate of appreciation was given to Robert Sibia, one of the Chin community’s early leaders.
The Catholic Chin, a minority of a minority from western Myanmar, were among the tens of thousands of Chin who fled their homeland because of mistreatment by their neighbors and the government.
When they arrived here in 2011, the Catholic Chin began associating with Baptist Chin, a larger and more established group, said Simon Padue, current St. Patrick Chin community chairman.
This was not a good arrangement, however. The Chin wanted to practice their Catholic faith as well as pass it on to their children.
Sibia, one of the early leaders, moved to Kansas City, Kansas, from Massachusetts to help advance that cause. And Masses were occasionally celebrated for the Chin by visiting priests like Father Theodore Chrysostom Ahmaung from Wichita and Father John Mang Peng, a missionary to Cambodia who visited various Catholic Myanmar communities in the United States.
But all of these were temporary fixes. The Chin wanted a permanent home.
Finally, they held a series of meetings to find a parish home starting in April 2013.
“On that night during the meeting at my apartment, we (all 16 attendees) agreed to form a community and started looking for the parish near our area,” said Sibia. “We found St. Patrick Parish. It was convenient and not far from the area we were living. The appointment was made and 11 of us went to . . . meet [Msgr. Michael Mullen]. . . . We started having Sunday prayers at the school lunchroom.”
The group of 11 Chin men had their first meeting, which was arranged by Padue and his wife Helena, with Msgr. Mullen on April 13, 2013. And Msgr. Mullen celebrated his first Mass for the Chin on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013.
The Chin community at St. Patrick Parish began with 60 members and now has 200.
“The situation now is, I can say, is that I am here for them,” said Father Lian, who arrived at the parish in November 2015. “Every Sunday, they have the Mass in their own language and dialect. We can say that their faith is stable.”
The Chin are strong believers in Catholic education, and there are 95 Chin children at the parish school — 85 of them Catholic; 10 are Protestant.
The Chin children now make up 25% of the student body at St. Patrick School. It’s just one sign of the Chin’s ongoing integration into parish life.
“[Integration] is a gradual process and it is one of the goals of our 150th anniversary year,” said Father Mertes. “They will be hosting a parish dinner in November.”
The Chin have their own Knights of Columbus council, conduct their annual summer vacation Bible school, enroll their children in the religious education program, and are involved with the parish garden project and the Green Club.
“Father Michael Lian keeps them busy with all the aforementioned activities,” said Father Mertes. “Language is an issue since most are first-generation immigrants from Malaysia or Myanmar, and therefore do not have English language skills.”
Language is the greatest hurtle, agreed Father Lian.
“We train some of our young group and also adults who understand English,” said Father Lian. “We try to get involved in parish activities, but the language is the problem. We try to participate in every area of St. Patrick.
“The Chin group enjoys our educational life at St. Patrick School. Whenever we have school activities, all the parents join with the kids.”
What is the greatest accomplishment of the Chin community over these past 10 years? Finally getting access to the sacraments in their own language, said Padue.
And what do they want for the future?
“We do not have youth activity at St. Patrick’s,” said Padue. “We need to build youth activity for the whole parish together — Chin, Spanish and English.”
He wants the Chin children to grow up and be leaders of their Chin community, protect their Catholic faith and keep the Chin culture alive.
And one more thing.
“Vocations,” he said. “We ask them all the time to become a priest or a Sister. We are praying right now for vocations.”
To view more photos from the Chin community’s celebration, click here.