Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Hmong Mass in Gothic Church

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Hmong Mass in Gothic Church

Article excerpt

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A small group of young people gathered in the front pews of St. Mary Church practice a familiar tune -- familiar but elusive.

Oh, yes, it's "Luag thiaj paub: peb yog cov ntseeg, huav kev hlub, huav kev hlub."

Hmong is not your first language? Then try the English words: "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love." Soon the practice subsides as dozens of people file into the oak pews, as they do every Sunday for 3:45 p.m. Mass. Each Sunday 100 to 200 come from among many hundreds on the church rolls.

They are at home here in this simple Gothic church in Lowertown, on the edge of downtown St. Paul. The people are short with round faces and nearly black hair and eyes. Some wear suits or dresses; some wear jeans with tie-dye tees, but invariably American, not Asian, styles. It is a hospitable church with Sunday morning Masses in English. Next week, there will be a polka Mass followed by an afternoon booya celebration.

For the Hmong or "free" people, immigrants from China by way of Laos and Thailand, and their children, St. Mary's is especially hospitable on Sunday afternoons. Today a Hmong deacon, Va Thai Lo, walks into the sanctuary with a taller Caucasian, Fr. Bob Wellisch, who begins the Mass in the eight-toned Hmong language.

From time to time, Wellisch reverts to an English phrase. From time to time, as in any English-language Mass, an "Alleluia" spices the Hmong.

The priest can pronounce the language but does not know it well. Fr. Daniel Taillez, who serves this community and formerly lived in Laos, is fluent in Hmong. So is Fr. Cher Ying Bang, a Hmong priest who may come to serve this community in another year.

Wellisch blesses Va Thai Lo, who reads the gospel, as well as other readings in Hmong. The deacon then gives the homily. His resonant voice conveys no trace of the nasal sounds that inject a tinkling character into some speakers' Hmong. …

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