Dressed in a long white dress and young high-top tennis shoes, altar server Gabby Palma proudly carried a large metal crucifix while leading a special procession on Sunday at St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park.
Palma, who is Filipino and an eighth-grade student at Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School in Orland Hills, said she was delighted that her church was chosen as the location for the Catholic Archdiocese’s 4th annual Asian Community Mass. from Chicago.
“Absolutely, it’s special because we celebrate Mass with all kinds of people,” Palma said.
Part of the procession that preceded the 4 p.m. mass was an elaborately dressed statue of the Virgin Mary, covered in lace and carried by four volunteers. Other colorful likenesses of the mother of Jesus representing Korea, India, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar stood in the center of the cavernous modern shrine.
Organized in partnership with the Asian Catholic Initiative of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the special Mass was intended to celebrate the multicultural diversity of the Archdiocese and offer Asian Catholics a chance to come together with Cardinal Blase Cupich to honor the Virgin Mary. .
“Notre-Dame plays a big role in the spirituality of Asian Catholics,” said Reverend Roy Belocura, associate pastor at Sainte-Julie Billiart, after mass. “Across the Philippines and Manila, there are many shrines dedicated to Mother Mary and churches with names that begin with ‘Our Lady of’.
After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the deeply religious celebration drew hundreds of Asian Catholics from across the Chicago area. Many of those present were members of Sainte-Julie Billiart and the southern and southwestern suburbs.
“About 25% of our congregation that attends Mass are Filipino,” said Reverend Tirso Villaverde. “We also have several Indian families.”
Villaverde said a former Vietnamese associate started an outreach program that has served to connect Asian Catholic families living in Orland, Tinley and the Archdiocese of Joliet. “So the Asian Catholic community is strong in the southern suburbs,” Villaverde said.
Beyond the representation that manifested in the ethnically unique icons of Mother Mary, language also played a major role in the celebration.
Altar maid Palma said she appreciated that parts of the celebration were presented in Tagalog, her mother tongue, but also in Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Malayalam, a language of India. A recitation of the Rosary before Mass included prayers in these languages.
Thanh Nguyen, an altar server, said, “I think it’s great because sometimes we don’t know what the priest is saying because the mass is in English.”
Nguyen’s cousin and fellow altar server, Khoi Vo, also enjoyed the celebration.
“I think it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” he said.
The teenagers are cousins and immigrants from Vietnam. They said in some cases that they had translated certain words and phrases from the Masses for family members.
When asked what he thought of the celebration, their young friend, altar server Aiden Ng, 9, replied “I don’t know”. Despite everything, he smiled a lot and seemed happy to be there.
Amid clouds of fragrant incense, uplifting songs from a choir and music including the talents of a skilled violinist, four readers delivered prayers from the faithful in Korean, Chinese, Indian and Japanese.
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Yet much of the Mass remained in English, including the homily delivered by Cardinal Cupich.
“It is a joy to celebrate with the Asian Catholics of Chicago and the Chicago area,” Cupich told the crowd. “You come with strong faith and family, and deep cultural roots, but also with your own particular mysteries that bring our faith to life. … We are strongest when we appreciate each other’s gifts, which is why it is so important that we come together.
Cupich called on families to encourage younger generations to consider serving as priests and nuns.
Referring to the particular veneration of Asian Catholics around the world for the Virgin Mary, he said: “We are guided by Our Lady because she is our mother to all. She would never want us to be isolated in our own separate ethnic group or culture.
After the mass, several families posed for photos with the icons of Mary. People would also approach the statues, lightly touching the platforms they were standing on, then making the sign of the cross.
Hundreds of visitors and congregation members also stayed to share a meal prepared by congregation members and other volunteers at the parish’s William J. Devine Activity Center.
Susan DeGrane is a freelance writer for the Daily Southtown.