By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The extra effort was noted.
Tet, the Oriental celebration of the lunar new year, this year fell on Feb. 19. As is the custom at the Church of the Holy Martyrs, the personal parish of Kansas City’s Vietnamese Catholic community swarms by the hundreds to attend Mass the following Saturday morning, rolling out the red carpet for their Bishop Robert W. Finn.
Except . . . this year, Ash Wednesday fell on Feb. 18. The Tet Mass would be celebrated on Feb. 21. Bishop Finn would be busy celebrating two Rites of Election on Feb. 21, including one in the morning, as well as another on Feb. 22 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Problem? None at all. Bishop Finn could easily have sent another priest in his place. But the bishop wasn’t about to miss out on this celebration.
He called the pastor, Father Dominic Duc Nguyen, and asked if the Mass could possibly be moved a few hours to 1 p.m., giving him plenty of time between the two Kansas City Rites of Election.
Problem? None at all. In fact, the parish was astounded that Bishop Finn would do that for them.
“Bishop, this is one of your very busy weekends,” said Amy Nguyen, expressing — in English and Vietnamese — the gratitude of the parish at the end of the Mass.
“You celebrate the Rites of Election at three different times this weekend,” she said. “Despite the busy schedule, you are here to celebrate Mass and pray for us on this third day of the new year.
“Your sacrifice speaks of a shepherd’s love for God’s people, and it speaks of your warm affection for our parish,” Nguyen said, as she noted that this was the Year of the Goat.
“Goat symbolizes such character traits as creativity, intelligence, dependability and calmness,” Nguyen said. “In light of those traits, we wish you, our Most Reverend Bishop, a year full of the wisdom and knowledge of the Holy Spirit so you can guide us to rely, to trust in God and to live in tranquility with others.”
Bishop Finn quickly acknowledged and expressed his own gratitude for the parish’s willingness to change its schedule so that he could be there.
“Even though it is a busy weekend, I am glad to be here,” he said before his final blessing. “I am thankful to God for making it happen.”
In his homily, Bishop Finn noted how the Vietnamese Catholics have turned the Tet holiday of family into a sacred holiday to give thanks first to God.
“Everything comes from God,” he said. “All our offerings are a thanksgiving to him.”
He recalled the first reading of the Mass from Genesis, which recalled the creation and serves as “our testimony that nothing comes to be without his love and power.”
“We acknowledge the providence of God which has kept us going and which gives a faith dimension to all the activities of our life and work,” Bishop Finn said.
He recalled the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, that we should “rejoice always in the Lord.”
“God is near to us,” Bishop Finn said. He guides us and protects us.”
Bishop Finn also recalled the words of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation on the “Joy of the Gospel.”
“Jesus Christ loves you,” the pope said. “He gave his life to save you, and now he is living by your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
“Nothing that the coming year brings,” said Bishop Finn, “will be impossible because Jesus Christ remains always with us.”
Bishop Finn praised the evident faith of the parish.
“As another year begins, what better place is there for us to be but here before God who saves us,” he said.
“We must live and share this truth so that many more may have the peace and fulfillment in their life,” Bishop Finn said.
“I see in this parish community many beautiful signs of faith, and I thank Father Duc, our deacons, sisters and all of you for being witnesses to your Catholic faith in the diocese,” he said.