By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 10, 2015
DUNWOODY—Members of the Chinese Catholic community are celebrating as their community recently marked its 25th anniversary and was recognized by the Archdiocese of Atlanta as a mission.
Now known as the Holy Name of Jesus Chinese Catholic Mission, the recognition formalizes the community’s tie to the archdiocese. This is the 11th mission in the archdiocese, according to the archdiocesan website.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory announced the mission on Nov. 15 at the community’s silver jubilee at All Saints Church, Dunwoody. Missions are formed for a variety of reasons, including serving the needs of a language group and nationality. The next step is for the Chinese Catholic community to find a permanent home.
“This (is) like your own child has been born,” said Anhsing “Andrew” Shen, the president of the association.
The celebration Mass brought nearly 200 members together. Musicians played the cello and violin to accompany the choir. The faithful, from English-speaking youngsters to native Chinese senior citizens, filled the pews. Teenaged boys and girls in red robes served at the altar. Scripture and prayers were recited in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
“I really felt like when the Mass is in Chinese, I can feel more, it is more powerful,” said Duet Cuellar, a Hong Kong native who attended the Chinese Catholic Mass for the first time. The anniversary Mass was unique, hearing her native Cantonese in addition to the other languages.
“It makes it more flavorful, more interesting,” she said, as she laughed. “This is the best of the best.”
The archbishop thanked the community members for enriching the Atlanta region with their cultural gifts, united by a shared faith. Chinese Catholics offer “gifts that make us even more Catholic in our identity,” he said, as the crowd applauded his announcement about the mission. Archbishop Gregory and All Saints’ pastor Msgr. Hugh Marren, who concelebrated the Mass, were later given gifts in Chinese calligraphy of the words “Faith, Hope, Love.”
Top priority is a mission chapel
The Chinese Catholic community formed in 1990, initially to socialize. Then members desired Mass in their native language and began on special occasions to fly in Chinese-speaking priests. English-speaking Atlanta priests stepped in when the community asked for weekly Mass. Their homilies would be translated into Chinese.
The community, which has its own religious education program, gathers every week at All Saints, with aspirations to have its own chapel. A church of its own is the top priority. It would show the Chinese community in metro Atlanta the group is sustainable and help the members reach out to others.
“We are no different than other Catholics. We are part of the community. We’d like to make our contribution to evangelize other Chinese. We’d like more people to be Catholic,” said Shen, 53, who works in the telecommunications industry.
The outreach uses a website in both English and Chinese, along with a monthly newsletter shared among members.
Father Bill Hao, the first archdiocesan priest of Chinese descent, will continue to be the spiritual leader of the community. Speaking five languages, including two Chinese dialects, he has been involved with the group for a half-dozen years. He was born to Chinese parents living outside of China. Growing up in the Philippines, he and his siblings were baptized while he attended Catholic schools. After a career in technology, he was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 2009 and now serves as a parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and as minister to the Chinese Catholic community.
“The mission church will be a place where all are welcome. It will be a place where people will feel that people really care for them. Our community is about people taking care of each other,” he said.
Different nationalities share Chinese heritage
In the United States, some 8.5 percent of Chinese identify as Catholic, according to a survey done for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
To understand the diversity in the community requires understanding the different backgrounds. The first wave of Chinese immigrants to Atlanta were university students coming to study, followed by Hong Kong residents who left in the late 1990s when the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule, and most recently people from mainland China. There are largely four groups within the Chinese community: people from Taiwan; from Hong Kong; from Fuzhou, a Chinese city with a large Catholic community; and overseas Chinese, living in other Asian countries. Mandarin is the common language shared by the expatriate community.
The establishment of the mission ties in with the vision of the new archdiocesan Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Diversity. It has been organized to serve the many ethnic, language and racial groups in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Each group will be invited to have a voice in a governing board that will set goals and offer programs to highlight the ethnic richness here.
It is estimated there are 120 million Catholics across 26 Asian countries, about 3 percent of the population. In China, less than 1 percent of the population is Catholic.
Ky Phanhsavath is from Laos with Chinese heritage. His family arrived in Georgia as refugees and settled in Warner Robins. He became Catholic in part moved by the kindness shown to his family by the people of Sacred Heart Church, Warner Robins, who sponsored them.
Many members of the community share a Chinese heritage, but are of different nationalities, he said.
“It’s a culture. The Chinese somewhat like to stay in a cluster of their own. You learn to stay among your peers, so you feel more comfortable,” said Phanhsavath, who has been a member of the Chinese Catholic community for 15 years.
Its members come from across the Atlanta area to worship together, he said. “We are the melting pot. We are the melting pot of Chinese. We are the melting pot of melting pots.”
“A mission is something we’ve been wanting for many, many years. We worked hard for it,” he said.
Newcomers grateful for Chinese Catholic group
Cuellar and her husband, Juan, from Costa Rica, had been searching for a community to share the Chinese culture with their two daughters. The family moved to Johns Creek in August and registered at St. Benedict Church.
Cuellar taught her daughters enough Chinese so they could pray the rosary together. “That’s the only way I can do it,” she said. “They picked up the sound from prayer with me.”
Cuellar said she attended a Chinese Christian church when an online search for a Chinese Catholic community came up empty. But a woman there told her about the Chinese Catholics, so the family attended the anniversary Mass. She intends to join the community to immerse her school-age children in the culture so one day they can pray and sing the hymns together. Hearing her native language spoken to celebrate Mass brought back fond memories of growing up in Hong Kong, she said.
About a dozen members of the original community of Chinese Catholics from the 1990s attended the service.
Sabrina Mao, 69, retired from Bell South and lives in east Cobb. She served as a leader within the Chinese community out of a sense of debt. She left her native Taiwan in the 1960s to attend an American university and stayed. “I felt I owed the Chinese people,” she said. She has since stepped back from a leadership role in the community. To evangelize successfully among the newest Chinese immigrants, the mission should reflect the Chinese heritage and the community, she said.
Paul Ku joined the association out of a desire to stay connected to his Chinese roots with his growing family. He said his three children were born and raised in the United States, but it was important to him they be aware of their first culture. Religious faith is invaluable and the community when it first organized didn’t want the faith to be lost in the new generations of Chinese, he said, both immigrant and Chinese-American.
Information about Holy Name of Jesus Chinese Catholic Mission can be found at: www.atlantachinesecatholic.org.