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Catholic Vancouver Jan. 30, 2019

Chinese ministry thriving, makes Fraser Valley inroads

By Agnieszka Ruck

Members of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Coquitlam prepare for Lunar New Year celebrations. (Photos courtesy of Chinese Ministry)

As billions of people celebrate the Lunar New Year this week, a pastor in Surrey is also taking the opportunity to celebrate another significant moment.

Father Paul Chu, pastor of Precious Blood Parish, said the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s ministry to Chinese Catholics is reaching more people, expanding across the Lower Mainland, and thriving.

“It’s good that, as a Church, we can respond to the needs of the people. They are taken care of,” said Father Chu, head of Chinese Ministry.

He said many immigrants who left China for the Lower Mainland may feel isolated, struggle with culture shock, or have a hard time participating fully in Mass and the other sacraments with native English speakers.

The archdiocese has historically found ways to reach them, including by offering Masses in Cantonese and/or Mandarin at St. Francis Xavier (since 1933), St. Theresa’s (1977), Corpus Christi (1994), Canadian Martyrs (1995) and Our Lady of Fatima (2007).

Since the archdiocese officially launched Chinese ministry in 2016, St. John the Apostle Parish has also jumped on board, offering one Sunday Mass per week in Cantonese.

But most of these Masses are held in Vancouver, which makes it difficult for Chinese Catholics outside the city to stay connected. “Some of them are baptized in their local parish, but because of the language they can’t participate fully in activities,” said Father Chu.

He had an idea, and in 2018, launched the Fraser Valley Chinese Catholic Community. Now from Coquitlam to Delta to Surrey, Chinese Catholics can access a network of Bible studies and social events.

“We give them another option to grow,” said Father Chu.

Father Paul Chu (centre) at a meeting with members of the Fraser Valley Chinese Catholic Community.

So far, the FVCCC has about 34 regular members who meet at private homes for Bible studies or catechism lessons led by a member of the community. Sometimes they will ask a priest to give a particular talk, but usually the groups are led by lay people, at someone’s home, in the language and cultural context these faithful Catholics feel comfortable in.

Father Chu is thrilled with the progress but admits there is a lot of work to do in the next year. “Coquitlam to White Rock is still a long way to travel,” he said.

The groups also welcome both Cantonese and Mandarin speakers, meaning if someone “only knows one dialect, they might not be fully participating in the whole evening.” Offering Cantonese- or Mandarin-only groups in every city, however, would require more planning and many more volunteers.

Meanwhile, longstanding Chinese Catholic parishes are still going strong in their efforts. Most notably, St. Francis Xavier Church celebrated its 85th anniversary last year with a gala dinner and hundreds of guests.

Hundreds celebrate the 85th anniversary of St. Francis Xavier Parish, founded in Chinatown in 1933.

Missionaries founded the parish in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood in 1933, and welcomed the community’s first Chinese pastor in 1962. 

The current pastor, Father Joseph Ly, CSJB, called the community a “centre of evangelization,” in which an average of 100 new Catholics have been baptized every year over the last five years.

The Lunar New Year, the Year of the Pig, begins Feb. 5.

More information on Masses celebrated in Cantonese and Mandarin available here.

Members of Canadian Martyrs Parish bake special cakes ahead of Lunar New Year celebrations.