By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — As they do every year, hundreds of Vietnamese-American Catholics put Mass at the very center of their most important cultural celebration Feb. 5.
Jamming Church of the Holy Martyrs, a personal parish established in 1991 by the late Bishop John J. Sullivan to serve the large population of Vietnamese Catholic immigrants on both sides of Kansas City’s state line, generations ranging from elderly to infants in arms joined Bishop Robert W. Finn to celebrate Tet, the Oriental lunar new year, and the beginning of the Year of the Cat.
The celebration included dance, Vietnamese hymns, a presentation of the gifts of first harvest, and the bishop himself handing out $1 bills in envelopes, first to the children then to others until the supply ran out, as a wish for good luck in the coming year.
It ended after Mass on the front steps of the church with a traditional dragon dance in which the bishop himself fed the dragon another lucky envelope.
“Dear bishop,” said Father Joseph Phan Trong Hanh, parish pastor, as the Mass began, “on behalf of our parish, I give you thanks for coming here to be with us today. It is a sign of your love and solidarity with us.”
In his homily, Bishop Finn congratulated the parish for its example of strength in faith and family bonds.
“Each year, it gives me great joy to be with you for this celebration which brings together so many people in faith, in joy,” he said.
“Your parish is doing a great work for the church, and I am grateful to see your unity and good will,” Bishop Finn said. “There will always be challenges, but our faith makes it possible to rise above them in love of God and love for one another.”
Bishop Finn noted that the first reading of the day, from the Book of Genesis, “reminds us that God made the world around us and saw that it was good.”
“This profound truth acknowledges him as the beginning and cause of all things,” he said.
“It is therefore fitting that we gather today to thank him as we mark the beginning of our new year.”
Bishop Finn told the congregation to always keep God at the center.
“We consecrate ourselves and our work to him. We give him our joys and sorrows, our dreams and even our fears,” he said. “Take everything, O Lord. Use them and use us for your glory so that all we do may be part of your plan for our holiness.”
Bishop Finn noted that the Gospel chosen for the celebration included the words of his episcopal motto, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
“Thank you for honoring me this way,” he said.
“God reminds us what is truly important,” the bishop said. “So many needs press upon us, and yet again and again God cares for us, seeing to our needs in his providence and love. If we can only keep this in mind, we will live with peace in our hearts, no matter the difficulties we face.”
Bishop Finn concluded with new year hopes for God’s continued grace.
“I wish you and all your loved ones, here and across the world, Christ’s grace and mercy and peace in the new year,” he said.
“May God watch over our homelands,” the bishop said. “Mary, mother of us all and queen of all human hearts, keep us on the path to Christ’s kingdom.”