Lunar New Year, Lent merges faith with traditions for Asian Catholics

February 27, 2024

Above, a red lion dances around Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, SDB, as he holds a red envelope during the Venerable Father Matteo Ricci, SJ, Chinese Education Award Dinner at Ocean Palace Feb. 8. The annual dinner supports Chinese priests and men and women religious gain pastoral and theological formation in Houston in order to minister in China. (Photos by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — To welcome and usher in the Lunar New Year of the Dragon, the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province gathered all their sisters from their six other mission house convents in Texas for a Feb. 3 celebration at their provincial house convent in southwest Houston.

The special event drew members of the Vietnamese Catholic community together to witness traditional Vietnamese lion dancing, a beloved icon of the Têt Lunar New Year celebration that features shimmering larger-than-life lions that dance to a beat set by nearby drums and cymbals that echoed throughout the convent grounds.

Every year, the sisters open their convent to priests and religious brothers and sisters who live and minister in the Archdiocese, with a special invitation to retired priests who live at the Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Priest Retirement Residence. The event also included a firecracker display, games and a food court featuring a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Held a week before the actual Feb. 10 Lunar New Year date, the celebration kicked off a series of Lunar New Year events held at parishes with large Asian Catholic communities around the Archdiocese.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Christ the Incarnate Word and other parishes also hosted lion dances and festive events to ring in the Lunar New Year. At Christ the Incarnate World, Father Thu Ngoc Nguyen, pastor, and Father Joseph Tien Phuong Bui, parochial vicar, greeted parishioners and visitors in the parish hall with the traditional “lì xì,” the red envelope seen in many Lunar New Year celebrations.

Outside the parish hall, a dramatic lion and dragon dance was accentuated by a massive firecracker display, with the dragon dancers fearlessly charging through the flashing firecrackers. In Asian tradition, firecrackers spark loud noises thought to ward away bad spirits.

Father Thu Ngoc Nguyen, pastor at Christ the Incarnate Word Catholic Church in Houston, hands a young parishioner “li xi,” or lucky red envelopes, after celebrating a Mass Feb. 9 for the Lunar New Year. Each year local Asian Catholics gather for a series of special Masses and prayers for the Lunar New Year, which fell on Feb. 10 this year and marked the Year of the Dragon. The church was decorated with traditional Vietnamese plants and colors.

Catholics, including the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, also attended a series of daily Masses at parishes to embrace their faith in the Lunar New Year.
The Mass intentions were celebrated to honor peace, ancestors and parents, and the sanctification of life and work, especially in the Lunar New Year.

While the vibrant, bright colors of the red lanterns, shimmering Lunar New Year banners and blossoming yellow chrysanthemums had to disappear a few days later for Ash Wednesday on Feb. 14, flowers continued to surround statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph at Christ the Incarnate Word.

The Congregation of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spiritans, held their annual Venerable Father Matteo Ricci, SJ, Chinese Education Award Dinner on Feb. 8 at Ocean Palace in Houston.

Founded by Father Donald Nesti, CSSp, the China Education Fund aims to bring Chinese priests and sisters to Houston for graduate study so they can return home to better evangelize Catholics in China. The dinner, which benefits the Spiritan China Education Fund for Advanced Formation, featured a keynote presentation by Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, SDB, who is the apostolic nuncio to Libya and Malta.

The dinner is named after the 16th-century Jesuit priest, named “Venerable” in 2022 by Pope Francis, who evangelized China, founding the seeds of faith that would grow the Chinese Catholic Church to its 12 million members today.

Archbishop Tai-Fai, a native of Hong Kong, spoke about the realities of the Catholic Church in China, describing the delicate relationship between the pope at the Vatican and Chinese Communist government leaders. He said the tenuous but faithful Catholic Church in China, though under watch of the Chinese State, remains ultimately under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit and prayer.

At the event, the St. Francis de Sales Knights of Columbus Council #10995 also received the Our Lady of China Charity and Service Award, and the Scanlan Foundation and Archbishop Tai-Fai were honored as well.

Past recipients of the Our Lady of China Award have been Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and the late Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz, who received the award posthumously. Part of the evening included entertainment and a video of Lunar New Year celebrations held at the Vatican, with Pope Francis greeting dragon and lion dancers at St. Peter’s.

Entertainment also included a pair of lions that also coursed throughout the reception hall in Houston, with Auxiliary Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, CRS, who gave the event’s benediction, and Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria, who led the invocation, greeting the lions with red envelopes. Attendees also heard the Ave Maria sung in Mandarin by Jennifer Wang, accompanied by Agnes Chang on piano.

Many attendees also were parishioners at Ascension Chinese Mission, which welcomed Archbishop Tai-Fai, who celebrated Masses at the church throughout the Lunar New Year weekend, concluding with a special Chinese potluck lunch in the parish hall.