Local Parishes

Catholic Chin community celebrates 10 years at St. Patrick

Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of the Diocese of Hakha in Myanmar (left) and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann applaud Chin community minister Father Michael Van Lian for his ministry to the Chin Catholics for the past 10 years at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.

Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of the Diocese of Hakha in Myanmar (Burma) helped the Chin community of Kansas City celebrate their 10th anniversary on June 18. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.

From left, Bishop Lucius Hre Kung, Diocese of Hakha in Myanmar (Burma); Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann; and St. Patrick Chin Community minister Father Michael Van Lian celebrate Mass for the community’s 10th anniversary. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.”

Women of the St. Patrick Parish Chin community join hands in prayer during the 10th anniversary Mass on June 18 in the parish hall. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.

Chin Catholics participate in Mass on Jue 18 at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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 choir sings during the June 18 Mass at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann delivers a homily during the Chin community’s 10th anniversary Mass. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.”

Msgr. Michael Mullen, assisted by Father Joseph Arsenault, waves to those gathered for the Chin community’s 10th anniversary celebration at the end of Mass. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

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.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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