Chinese Catholics in Brooklyn Celebrate a New Year

Tags: Currents Chinese Catholics, Lunar New Year

By Katie Engesser

Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio is celebrating the Lunar New Year with a liturgy at St Michael’s Church in Flushing.

Parishioner Anne Huang explained “Chinese New Year is very important for the Chinese people because we have to celebrate and remember the ancestors.”

After an offering of candles and flowers, the Bishop blesses the ancestral altar with incense. The tradition isn’t a Catholic rite but it has been handed down for generations among the Chinese people. This sign of respect is a key element in a mass of thanksgiving during the Chinese new year.

“This is part of the Chinese culture: to recognize where you came from and honor the ancestors,” Bishop DiMarzio said.

The Catholic Church has had a turbulent history in China. The first recorded missionary priest arrived there in the 13th century. But by the 18th century, Christianity had been banned. In the 19th century, Europeans who tried to spread the faith could be sentenced to death. For a long time, Catholic Church officials were reluctant to recognize Chinese customs. Pope Pius XII changed that, allowing the Chinese rituals to be performed during mass.

Today, Beijing and the Vatican are working to heal the rupture in relations that has existed since the communists seized power in China seventy years ago. A new agreement is in place sharing authority over the appointment of bishops between the Holy See and China’s state-governed church. Meanwhile in the United States, an influx of Chinese to our shores is helping to grow the American catholic church. Last Easter, in the Brooklyn diocese alone, 350 Chinese Americans were welcomed into the faith.

For this holiday celebration, Bishop DiMarzio participates in a long-held Chinese New Year’s tradition: distributing red envelopes containing small gifts as a symbol of good luck.

Anne reflects “we carry on… we remember it and we carry on our Chinese New Year.”