By Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For many Catholic immigrant groups, one sign that they’d “finally arrived” was the establishment of their own Knights of Columbus council.
This was true of the Poles, Croatians, Irish, Germans, Slovenians, Hispanics — and now the Chin of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
Each Sunday afternoon, the Chin Catholic Community transforms the basement cafeteria of St. Patrick School into a chapel for Sunday Mass. During Mass on June 14, representatives of the Knights of Columbus Kansas state council presented the Chin with their own charter for the Pope Innocent XIII Council 15865.
The Chin have a special place in their hearts for Pope Innocent XIII. His short reign from 1721 to 1724 is considered unremarkable by historians, but the Chin honor him for sending missionaries to their ancestors.
“We will take this charter and we will place it on the wall so each time we come to Mass, we will have this charter when we pray,” said pastor Msgr. Michael Mullen in his homily.
The Chin members of St. Patrick Parish are refugees from Chin State in north- west Myanmar (also known as Burma). In recent years, displaced ethnic Chin have been filtering into the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area through the U.N. refugee resettlement program.
Most of the Chin in the metro area are Protestant, but a small number are Catholic. On a Sunday afternoon a little over two years ago, a group of Chin men knocked on Msgr. Mullen’s rectory door to make their presence known.
Since then, they’ve had Mass and social gatherings on a regular basis. Last year, they sent 22 children to the parish school. Having the men become Knights of Columbus seemed the next logical step.
The council was formed in October 2013, but only received its charter this year. Since it was formed, the Chin council has grown from 23 to 37 members.
“This signifies their establishment,” said state deputy Patrick Winchester. “The supreme council awards the charter in recognition of them becoming a council, kind of like a high school diploma.”
Five Knights from St. Patrick Parish’s long-established Council 6781 were present to offer moral support, and five Knights and three of their wives came to represent the state council.
In his homily, Msgr. Mullen explained the good work of the Knights to the Chin worshipers.
“The Knights of Columbus build the kingdom of God in their own hearts, in society, the same [way] we do,” said Msgr. Mullen, the new council’s chaplain.
“They’re men of prayer,” he continued. “They study. They learn about Jesus, the Bible, the church and our Catholic traditions. And they serve. They serve families, the handicapped, and vocations to the priesthood, religious life and marriage.
“The Knights of Columbus build the kingdom of God everywhere in our state, and we’re proud to have them here in St. Patrick Parish.”
The Chin hope their new council will provide growth and stability to their community.
“We feel that this is a big support for our Chin Catholic community,” said Grand Knight Robert Sibia, the first one to hold that position in Council 15865. “We have many things we need to face. We need to build [our community] and heal the pain we have.”
“We are like sheep among the wolves,” he continued. “We have [other Chin] communities in Kansas City, Kansas, but only one Chin Catholic community among them.”
Simon Tial, the new council’s financial secretary, believes the council will help the Chin keep the Catholic faith. “We are from a very poor country,” said Tial. “Over there, our Catholic faith is very strong. But when we arrive here, we cannot communicate in American culture.”
“The Protestant [Chin] have very strong communication, but we Catholics are very poor — we cannot speak much English,” he continued. “That is why our members go to the Protestant faith. We need to group together for our Catholic faith. . . . So, with the Knights of Columbus, we can group together and become stronger.”
The state council is excited about the Chin council’s ability to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers.
“[Knights founder] Father McGivney’s dream was to include all eligible Catholic men to be Knights, and that’s why the state council and supreme council are excited about this opportunity here,” said Winchester.