Chicagoland

Lunar New Year celebration is ‘a family reunion’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, February 17, 2022

Lunar New Year celebration is ‘a family reunion’

Parishioners celebrated the Lunar New Year Feb. 6, 2022, at St. Theresa Chinese Catholic Church, 218 W. Alexander St., a worship site of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish. The Lunar New Year is a major holiday in many East Asian countries. (Karen Callway/Chicago Catholic)
Lion dancers make their way up and down the aisles of St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church before a Mass celebrating the Lunar New Year on Feb. 6, 2022. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Children from St. Therese Chinese Catholic School dance in a baby lion costume, following lion dance procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Francis Li, pastor of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta parish, blesses the lion before the dance. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Children from St. Therese Chinese Catholic School perform a traditional dance before Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joy and Kaley Chen watch all the colorful traditions during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A lector gives a reading. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Children from St. Therese School and the parish religious education program carry banners during the offertory procession displaying the gifts they brought to the altar: a Bible, incense, flowers, fruit, rice cake, rice wine, water and wine, and bread. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Children from St. Therese School and the parish religious education program carry banners during the offertory procession displaying the gifts they brought to the altar: a Bible, incense, flowers, fruit, rice cake, rice wine, water and wine, and bread. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Children from St. Therese School and the parish religious education program carry banners during the offertory procession displaying the gifts they brought to the altar: a Bible, incense, flowers, fruit, rice cake, rice wine, water and wine, and bread. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Pastor Father Francis Li raises the incense towards the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Pastor Father Francis Li raises the host during the eucharistic prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The church — originally built for an Italian Catholic community — is adorned with traditional Chinese decorations for the Lunar New Year Mass.(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Budi, Katharina and Vincent Kusnoto share the Sign of Peace as a family. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners bow at the altar of their ancestors at the end of Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Redemptorist Father Redempt Jawa distributes red envelopes filled with money or prayer cards to parishioners. The red color symbolizes good luck and prosperity in Chinese and other East Asian cultures. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Guests were greeted with calls of “Happy New Year!” and a barrage of firecrackers to start the Lunar New Year Mass Feb. 6 at St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church, 218 W. Alexander St.

The Mass is a fixture at St. Therese, now a worship site of St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta Parish, and it includes a lion dance, other traditional dances, veneration of ancestors and even red envelopes, with $1 for children and Year of the Tiger prayer cards for adults.

“In the Lunar New Year when I was a child, it was always about new clothes,” said Father Francis Li, pastor of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “New clothes, candy and red candles.”

Now, he said, the holiday, which is celebrated in several East Asian countries, is about more.

“The celebration of the Lunar New Year is about family,” he said. “It’s about family and friends, it’s about the love of God, it’s about joy and laughter and sending well-wishes to others.”

It’s also a time to express gratitude to God for blessings we have received, Li said, and to ask for continued blessings throughout the coming year.

Li celebrated Mass Feb. 1, the official date of the Lunar New Year this year, for students at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School, and he asked them what they were asking God for this year. Their answers surprised him.

“They said, ‘I pray for God’s blessings for an end to racism, an end to the pandemic, a solution to our ecological crisis, for peace, an end to violence,’” he said. “These are not small matters. These are big issues that we face during our daily lives.”

Li urged those at Mass to follow the example of Peter in the day’s Gospel, in which he heeded Jesus’ command to put out into the deep and lower his nets again, after a night of fishing that netted nothing, and in Peter’s decision to abandon his work as a fisherman to become a “fisher of people” and follow Jesus.

“Listening is not easy,” he cautioned. “It takes trust. It takes acceptance.”

That hit home for him when he called relatives in China for the New Year and his newest grandnephew, born since the last time Li was able to travel to China before the COVID-19 pandemic, would not speak to him on the video call, not even when Li promised to bring him a red envelope — the traditional Lunar New Year gift — the next time he visits.

“He doesn’t know me,” Li said. “He doesn’t trust me.”

But the faithful know the Lord, Li said.

“Let’s renew our commitment to listen to Jesus in our lives,” he said.

Sharon Wong, co-chair of the parish pastoral council, helped plan the Mass and welcomed parishioners and guests in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. The Lunar New Year Mass is important, she said, because of the importance of the holiday in China and to Chinese families in the United States.

“It’s a family reunion,” she said, noting that celebrations in China usually lasted about two weeks, with different traditions for different days: Getting new clothes and cleaning the house to prepare, staying home to rest the night before, spending the first day with family, visiting friends on subsequent days.

Red, considered a lucky color, decorates the church and is prominent in both the clergy vestments and the clothing of the congregation. At the offertory, children brought up gifts of incense, fruit and rice wine and rice cakes in addition to the bread and wine.

During the Lunar New Year holiday, families traditionally honor their ancestors, and participants in the Lunar New Year Mass do that as well, Wong said.

“A very important part of the Mass is the ancestral rite, to honor the people before us,” she said. “In Asian cultures, celebration of the ancestors is very important. We have incense, food on the table and remember where we come from and remember our roots as well.”

Parishioner Wing Chan, who led the rite, said Asian Catholics have the Holy Family as a model for family values, and the Communion of Saints as an example of venerating those who have gone before.

“Because of the Communion of Saints, we can pray for and express respect for our ancestors,” he said.

Topics:

  • lunar new year

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