For Catholics who have come to Illinois from Myanmar — the country formerly known as Burma — there are a world of difficulties to navigate. Many of the immigrants over the past several years have come as refugees, stopping for some period of time in refugee camps, mostly in Thailand. Others came decades ago and have worked to keep their families together. “As immigrants or refugees to the United States of America, we, members of the Myanmar community in Illinois, have a lot of difficulties, which come in the form of language, cultural shock, just to name some,” said Agnese, a Burmese woman who uses only one name. “The best way to face all those challenges is to hold on to our faith.” That’s where the Myanmar Catholic Community comes in. The group, in cooperation with the archdiocese’s Office for Asian Catholics, helps unite Catholics from Myanmar with monthly Masses and other events, she said. “There are some Catholic immigrants/ refugees who joined other denominations due to language barriers, affiliation of tribal background and receiving some sort of assistance from the other denomination,” Agnese wrote in an email interview. “It is still heartwarming to know that there are some Burmese Catholics who try their best to help other Burmese refugees to get in touch with the parish or pastor of the place to be able to attend the Mass and be educated in Catholic faith.” While Christians, and Catholics in particular, are a minority in Myanmar, the Catholic faith has a history there, with the first Catholic missionaries arriving 500 years ago. Catholics there generally are not mistreated because of their faith, and Catholic clergy and religious women are usually treated with respect. The Burmese ministry was formally organized three years ago at St. Ita Parish, 1220 W. Catalpa Ave. In February 2011, Burmese Catholics from Chicago, Wheaton and Rockford met with Bishop Francis Kane, then-vicar for Vicariate II. Many Burmese also have settled in the Fort Wayne/South Bend area of Indiana. Once a month, Father Peter DeeDe makes the trek from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne to St. Michael Parish in Wheaton to celebrate one Mass in Burmese, and then on to St. Ita to celebrate another. “A lot of the newer people don’t really speak English,” said DeeDe, who has been making the monthly trip for about a year and a half. “And it’s important for them to have Mass in their own language.” “In the community, as we come from different places in Myanmar, we have different ethnicities, so speak different languages,” Agnese explained. “But Burmese is the common language we use. We are all from the remote areas in the country.” The Masses are followed by a potluck lunch. At the June 15 Mass, about 40 people gathered in the lunchroom of the St. Ita Campus of Northside Catholic Academy. Some, like May Bamaung, 85, have been in the Chicago area for decades. Bamaung came to the United States in 1979 with the youngest five of her 10 children, with the sponsorship of her sister. Already a widow, she worked and saved and eventually sponsored the rest of her children to join the family here. When they arrived, they were the first Asian Catholics that they knew of at St. John Brebeuf Parish in Niles, Bamaung said. May Bamaung’s son Joseph is the president of the fledgling group, which used to meet on a more informal basis. He’s hoping to keep the group growing, although it can be difficult for people to make the trek to St. Ita. Some have jobs that require them to work Sundays; others live in far-flung neighborhoods or in suburbs and don’t have cars. While public transportation is available, it can be time consuming, especially on Sundays. Parents’ Day, celebrated in July, brings together Burmese Catholics from the entire region at St. Ita, and that’s one day that all the members try to attend. There are other Burmese community groups that work to connect recent arrivals with the resources and services they need, and try to keep the connection between Burmese of various religions. “The purpose of this group is religious,” Joseph Bamaung said.