SILVER SPRING, Maryland — Participating in their 18th annual Marian pilgrimage in the Washington D.C., area, Asian and Pacific Island Catholics were encouraged to be a “family of families” united in their faith, and to make devotion to Mary and love for Christ central to their homes and an impetus to build a new and better world.
“Fellow Asian and Pacific Island Catholics: we are better together as a family of families. May we continue as pilgrims on Earth, help others to encounter the Risen Lord, looking up to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the numerous saints and martyrs who serve as our models and intercessors,” said Carolyn Ng, vice president of the Asian and Pacific Network, who spoke at the end of the pilgrimage Mass May 1 at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring.
The Asian and Pacific Catholic Network organized the pilgrimage and Mass in collaboration with the Asian and Pacific Island Affairs Subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church and the support of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach and the Office of Multicultural Ministries in the Diocese of Arlington.
The annual event is celebrated in May as part of Asian and Pacific Island National Heritage Month.
Ng, the coordinator for catechesis and faith formation at Our Lady of China Pastoral Mission that worships at St. Mary Mother of God Church in Washington’s Chinatown neighborhood, said the pilgrimage and Mass offered an “opportunity to pray in solidarity, not only with Asian and Pacific Island Catholics, but also with the church in the U.S. and beyond.”
Over the years, the pilgrimage and Mass have traditionally been held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, drawing a large congregation of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics from the East Coast.
Due to COVID-19 safety measures, the pilgrimage this year was held on a smaller scale, with about 100 participants at the Maryland church wearing masks and sitting in social distances in alternate church pews. The Mass was also livestreamed.
Last year, at the onset of the pandemic, the pilgrimage was canceled, and an online rosary was held instead.
While lacking the striking musical and dance performances representing different Asian cultures that have opened the past pilgrimages at the National Shrine, the May 1 call to prayer featured Alice Kan of the Guzheng Ensemble playing “Amazing Grace” and “America the Beautiful” on the Chinese zither.
Welcoming people to the pilgrimage, Aylene Mafnas, a Filipino Catholic, said participants represented different countries, cultures and dioceses, “yet our devotion to our Blessed Mother binds us together as one.”
That devotion could be seen in a display of several ornate statues of Mary, depicted in native dress as the patroness of several Asian countries, displayed in front of the church’s sanctuary, not far from banners representing Catholics with roots in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Samoa, Korea and China.
Participating communities in the Asian and Pacific Catholic Network also include Bangla, Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Laotian, Lebanese, Pakistani and Thai Catholics.
Opening remarks were offered by Sister Myrna Tordillo, a member of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo who serves as an assistant director for the Asian and Pacific Island Affairs Subcommittee of the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.
She noted that the pilgrimage came at a “providential moment … This is a favorable time for us to gather in person after a long time and to gather online.”
She also highlighted the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, noting that the first Mass was celebrated there on Easter Sunday in 1521. The 2.9 million Filipino Catholics in the United States today represent a vibrant part of the present and future Catholic Church in this country, she said.
Msgr. Eddie Tolentino, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish who served as the main celebrant at the Mass, said it was an honor for the parish to host the pilgrimage, and noted that his grandfather was an immigrant from the Philippines.
In his homily, he said that at a time when some family members are estranged from one another, “Jesus Christ never ceases to call us to be one in God.”
He said today’s families can find models of love and of saying “yes” to God in the Holy Family of Nazareth — Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. Each home, he said, should be a place of prayer, adding that Mary, just as she is the mother of the church, can be a mother in each home.
With faith, families can help build a new and better world, he added.
The pilgrimage and Mass came at a time when Asian Americans have faced increasing discrimination and violence after the coronavirus pandemic, first reported in China, has spread throughout the world, including in its current epicenter in India, with more than 20 million reported cases and more than 234,000 deaths as of May 6.
A prayer was offered at the Mass, seeking healing for those impacted by the coronavirus, including those who have lost loved ones, jobs and businesses and for strength for those caring for the afflicted.
An additional prayer was offered “for the reconciliation of our country due to division and racial discrimination, may God grant us the grace to love others and to value the diversity in our human family.”
Another place of turmoil in Asia has been Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where security forces have allegedly killed at least 750 protesters and detained thousands more since a recent military coup there. Pope Francis and Myanmar Catholic leaders have prayed for peace in the region and a prayer at the Mass was offered for world leaders, that they might work for peace and justice and respect human life and dignity.
After Communion, Tolentino said the last survey at St. Michael the Archangel Parish found that parishioners came from more than 100 countries, and he said whenever that community gathers, it reflects the universal church.
In his homily, he said that from the time of the Catholic Church’s beginnings it has been shown that it is for everyone.
That diversity and unity in faith was highlighted in a prayer at the Mass specifically for Asian and Pacific Island communities which said: “May we continue to serve God and witness his love in our own cultures as we are united with the universal church.”
Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington.