by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Forced to become refugees and scattered across the globe, some people of the ZoTung ethnic group from Myanmar (Burma) have found a home in northeast Kansas.
Recently, the Catholic ZoTung had a sort of “extended family reunion” at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas.
On Aug. 5, approximately 125 Catholic ZoTung gathered at the cathedral for the daylong “ZoTung Catholic Conference of America,” which included Mass, dinner and a program of catechetical lectures. The attendees came from Kansas, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina and Texas.
“Catholic parishes in Wyandotte County have been most welcoming to immigrants who have come from Myanmar,” said Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. “Catholic Charities helped settle our Burmese brothers and sisters in Kansas City, Kansas.
Myanmar has several ethnic and language groups, the ZoTung and Chin being just two. In 2013, a group of Chin Catholics approached Msgr. Mullen and asked for a place to worship.
Since then, a lively Chin Catholic community has become established at St. Patrick. Not only has a bishop from Myanmar come to visit the local Burmese, but a Burmese priest, Father Michael Van Lin from the Diocese of Hakha in Myanmar, arrived to offer the sacraments to Burmese Catholics. There are 44 St. Patrick’s Chin students attending St. Patrick School, Bishop Ward High School and Donnelly College.
The main celebrant of the ZoTung Conference Mass was Father James Kai Khaw, who is studying theology in Paris. Father Emanuel Hoang Za Uk, from the Diocese of Hakha in Chin State, Myanmar (Burma), and Father Michael Van Lian, associate pastor at St. Patrick Church, concelebrated.
This was the second national ZoTung Catholic Conference. The first was also held last year at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
The 15 or so Catholic ZoTung families of Kansas City, Kansas, comprise the largest community of its type in the United States, said Father Lian. The first ZoTung arrived in Kansas City, Kansas, in 2008 or 2009.
Father Lian is of the Chin ethnic group, a community of which has become established at St. Patrick Parish. The ZoTung, like the Chin, come from the mountainous Chin State located in the western edge of Burma (or Myanmar), bordering India. The majority of people in Chin State are Christian — either Catholic or Protestant.
Although most of the attendees were Catholic ZoTung, there were also lay representatives of the Kansas City area Protestant ZoTung community and some Chin from St. Patrick Parish.
“The ZoTung Conference at the cathedral is one more step in the growth and outreach of our Kansas City, Kansas, Burmese community,” said Msgr. Mullen. “[Cathedral rector] Father Harry Schneider and the cathedral community have welcomed the Burmese families.”
“This year, 33 Burmese students are enrolled at Resurrection School [in Kansas City, Kansas],” he continued. “The ZoTung are Burmese Catholics with a deep faith.”