Holy Martyrs, bishop celebrate Tet
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Tet, the Lunar New Year, is every American holiday rolled into one to the Vietnamese community at Church of the Holy Martyrs.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Bishops Raymond Boland hands out traditional envelopes with money to the children of Holy Martyrs Parish. The Vietnamese tradition is the parish's gift to its children.
At the end of the Feb. 5 Mass launching the weekend-long celebration, the parish added one more holiday - the Feb. 8 birthday of Bishop Raymond J. Boland.
With their pastor Father Joseph Phan Trong Hanh leading them, the overflow congregation that spilled out the front door paused before the final blessing to sing "Happy Birthday" to a bishop who hasn't missed celebrating Tet since he arrived in Kansas City in 1993.
His presence every year, said parish leader Nguyen Thuy, means much to the parish, formed in 1991 by Bishop Boland's predecessor Bishop John J. Sullivan to serve as a "personal parish" to Kansas City's Vietnamese Catholics.
"It is an honor to have you here with us every year to celebrate with us, and to thank God for all the graces he has given us in the past year," Thuy said. "We are deeply touched by the special love you have for this community."
Thuy said Bishop Boland's love is felt especially by those who feel separated from their homeland, and from family members they left behind barely a generation ago - as waves of Catholic immigrants to the United States have done for generations before - as they sought a new life in a new land.
"Every year, you make the time to be with us, soothing your people who have to live far from their native land and their loved ones," Thuy said. "Your presence creates the true spirit of the Lunar New Year."
But Bishop Boland responded that it was he, as well as the entire community of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who owe thanks to the Vietnamese community.
"You add an extraordinary dimension to the patchwork quilt of our diocese," Bishop Boland said.
He also said that the people of the former St. Augustine Parish, whose church became Church of the Holy Martyrs, should take pride in the care and stewardship that the Vietnamese community has given to their former church home.
"I would hope that the people who were from St. Augustine would come here to see the wonderful way you have preserved this building," he said.
The church was lavishly decorated with flowers, incense, and banners for the occasion. On the altar, a large banner proclaimed "Lay Chua Con Day" - "Oh, God I Am Here."
In the vestibule, parishioners were greeted with signs in English proclaiming the spirit of the holiday: "Happy New Year - First Jesus, then others, finally yourself."
In his homily, Father Hanh reminded the community that the family is at the core, not only of the Tet holiday, but of the Vietnamese culture.
"The first thing we do is thank God. The second thing, we thank our ancestors," he said. That helps us understand that at the heart of our culture is the family. We have to stay together. The children may fly away, but they always come back at Tet."