Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 8, 2010
For Asian parishes, finding and keeping a pastor can be tough
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - A common dilemma among Edmonton's Asian Catholic parishes is finding replacement priests who speak their native tongue, be it Cantonese, Vietnamese or Korean.
Father John Mak, for example, had already retired from being a full-time pastor, but circumstances drew him back in. He was asked to leave Calgary and take over at the Chinese parish in Edmonton. No other Cantonese-speaking priest was available for the position.
Mak agreed and has been the priest there since July 2008.
"I have already been here for a year and a half and I am still wondering when I can go back into retirement. Hopefully the archbishop can arrange for another Chinese-speaking priest," he said.
Two Cantonese Masses and an English Mass are held every weekend. Most of the parishioners are from Hong Kong. Few of the Mandarin-speaking Chinese attend the parish because a Mass in their language is not provided.
"In most of the schooling, they (Chinese people) are using English as their major language. Although we have English in our schools in this society, Cantonese is a dominant language in the Hong Kong society," said Mak.
"When they have integrated into society here and especially if they are second generation and fluent in English, they tend to join with the other parishes nearby."
St. Jung Ha Sang Parish serves the city's Korean Catholics. It has a good blend of first-generation Koreans and their children. But for those who move away, perhaps to a smaller community where there is no Korean-speaking parish, many of them assimilate into the other parishes. Regardless, the Catholic faith remains strong in these families.
The priest there is Father Joon-ho (John Baptiste) Lee, who came to Edmonton directly from Korea. His eventual replacement will likely come from Korea too, since Korean-speaking priests are next to impossible to find here.
"The Koreans living here, especially the first generations, are very much in need of a Korean-speaking priest with a Korean background," said Lee.
"The second generations tend to favour the Western style Catholic Church. I wish for our parish a second-generation priest who can understand the first generation's pain and also understand the Western affairs, someone who can share his feelings on both sides," he said, noting that it's important for the church hierarchy to represent the people they serve.
The Saturday and Sunday Masses at Queen of Martyrs are in Vietnamese. The language (kinh) is a hybrid of Mon-Khmer, Tai and Chinese elements with many of its basic words derived from the monotonic Mon-Khmer languages.
"We are at a point now where we have two or three generations in our church, the older generation from Vietnam and the younger generation who were born here," said Huan Ngo, president of the parish pastoral council.
"The oldest generation doesn't understand English fully and the youngest generation doesn't understand Vietnamese fully, so we are right in the middle of transition. We have that split right now."
Finding an eventual replacement priest for Father Peter Hung Tran is not an issue, however.
"We are blessed with the number of Vietnamese-speaking priests available in Canada. We have quite a few to choose from, so our need will be filled for a while. So our challenge will not be finding another Vietnamese-speaking priest, but our challenge will be to find a way to meet the needs of both the older generation and the younger generation," said Ngo.
FILIPINOS AN EXCEPTION
An Asian community that does not face a language barrier is the Filipinos.
"The Filipinos communicate with the English language a lot more in their culture, even in the Philippines, so the transition is less of a challenge for the Filipino community," said Ngo.
In agreement is Father Nilo Macapinlac, a Filipino priest serving the rural communities of Vegreville, Viking and Holden.
"I am grateful for the Americans because they brought the system of education into the Philippines where they introduced the English alphabet. They introduced English into the Philippines as a second language, aside from our national language," said Macapinlac.
Universities in the Philippines teach in English, and Filipinos are able to go abroad to English-speaking nations with relative ease because they know the language.
"Speaking English gives us solidarity to one another, and communication is very important. We cannot be a nurse, doctor, engineer or other professions, even the blue-collar jobs in other countries, if we cannot communicate in English," said Macapinlac.
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