Dozens of altar servers and clergy process to the altar with Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith, who spoke of change in his homily at the Lunar New Year’s Mass Jan. 24 at Our Lady of Lavang Church in Northeast Portland.
Dozens of altar servers and clergy process to the altar with Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith, who spoke of change in his homily at the Lunar New Year’s Mass Jan. 24 at Our Lady of Lavang Church in Northeast Portland.
Change was in the air in more ways than one at the Lunar New Year’s Eve Mass Jan. 24 at Our Lady of Lavang Church in Northeast Portland.

There was the new year, with the Year of the Pig changing to the Year of the Rat, on Jan. 25. There was also the massive impending move from the parish’s longtime church to the former New Hope Church in Happy Valley, a campus that better fits the needs of the vibrant parish of 1,720 families.

And indeed, it was standing room only at the Mass, with the sanctuary, the parish hall and both entry lobbies crowded with parishioners young and old, many dressed in their finest traditional wear. Their red, orange, yellow and green silk áo dais matched the bright colors at the altar, in particular the golden chrysanthemums, flowers traditionally displayed at the new year.

Domus Dei Father Ansgar Pham, pastor, told his parishioners that he expected this would be the last Lunar New Year’s Mass they were likely to experience in this church, which has served as home to the Vietnamese Catholic community for decades.

In his homily, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith reminded the crowd of the hope that comes with change, something we all know from our own lives. He touched on the great hope in the air at weddings, and the happy expectations for the future, not just in the hearts of the couple but also in the community. “We all find ourselves renewed at those moments,” he said.

The arrival of children in a family brings enormous transformation, including, sometimes, the need to move to a bigger house.

“Change: Yes, it’s work, and yes, there are challenges. But it’s a good thing.”

The bishop noted the irony of how we want other people to adapt and evolve — “not so much for ourselves. We want to stay the same. But life doesn’t work like that. To live is to change and to change is to live.”

In our individual lives, he added, that means that our lives get bigger and bigger … until it doesn’t. He wryly revealed that it was a couple of years ago for him that he first encountered a reminder that he was aging. Still, “to live a life full of happiness and joy, we have to be willing to adapt to change.”

Many parishioners at Our Lady of Lavang, he said, experienced a huge upheaval: leaving their homeland to come to a foreign country with a different language and culture. “It was easier for me, coming from South Africa,” he admitted.

For those who came as refugees, he encouraged them to look around to see what that enormous change had brought, “the wonderful success of all your hard work.”

The bishop remembered that 13 years ago he started as pastor of St. Rose Parish, its church across the street from Our Lady of Lavang. During his seven years there he watched as Our Lady of Lavang grew. “God has blessed you,” he said. “You have grown and you have adapted.”

He invited them to consider how God has blessed their faith community. They have outgrown this place and “God has provided another place,” he said. “We celebrate the new year, and we celebrate the hope, particularly this year, for the future of the Our Lady of Lavang community.”

Father Pham summarized the homily in Vietnamese for those who didn’t speak English, but it was clear by the audience’s response to Bishop Smith that most understood. It is to hold on to their Vietnamese language and culture that the parish includes Vietnamese language lessons for the children of the parish on Sundays, along with religion classes.

For that reason, the congregation warmly applauded the children who spoke, both in English and in Vietnamese, after Mass.

Kaden Nguyen, one of the speakers, said he was helped in his Vietnamese by his classes at the parish and by the fact that Vietnamese is the language always spoken at his home. As for English, he speaks it every day at Christ the King School in Milwaukie, where he is a student.

Nguyen has views on why his parish is, as Bishop Smith said, so successful. “The people here are kind, and help everyone,” he said, adding that fun events, like the New Year’s celebration that followed Mass, were also important.

After Mass, Bishop Smith and priests handed out the traditional red envelopes, each with crisp $2 bills inside, to the children, nuns and others.

Families took turns taking their photos in front of the altar, and a few knelt in prayer before the statue of Mary, ignoring the tumult around them.

Most people’s attention turned to dragon and fan dancers in the parish hall, but Francis An Pham, a former parish council chairman, lingered in the sanctuary.

“We have a very good memory of being here,” he said. “But being there, at the new church after the move, will be better.”