Despite a snowstorm, hundreds of people flocked to St. Boniface Church on Cleveland’s West Side Jan. 22 to begin the celebration of Tet, the lunar new year. This is the year of the cat.
Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost celebrated Mass for the Vietnamese community. The liturgy was in English and Vietnamese and incorporated some of the Vietnamese traditions, including the use of incense sticks, displays of fruit in front of the altar and cherry blossoms. Members of the congregation also received red envelopes of “lucky money” during the Mass.
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Many members of the congregation wore brightly colored ao dai -- the traditional Vietnamese tunics -- over silk trousers. Red is a popular color for the new year celebration.
The bishop heard an explanation of the tet celebration and learned that the first day of the new year is the largest celebration. Vietnamese traditions include wishing people a happy new year and the first person to visit a family on the first day of the new year is expected to bring them good luck. Bishop Woost, Deacon Paul Kipfstuhl, his master of ceremonies, and Sister Rita Mary Harwood, the retired director of the diocesan Parish Life and Special Ministries Office, were recognized as the first official visitors of the parish community in the new year.
The Vietnamese show gratitude by presenting gifts. The congregation thanked the bishop, deacon and Sister Rita Mary for their love and concern for the Vietnamese community. All were invited to a tet celebration in the Metro Catholic School hall after Mass.
“It is privilege and an honor for me to be here with you this morning,” Bishop Woost said. “Today we rejoice in the Lord always, as St. Paul said in our second reading.”
On the first day of the new year, he said we thank God for the blessings of the past year and rejoice in the Lord’s goodness to us in days past.
“With the Lord’s help, we sweep away anything in the home of our hearts – past worries, sorrows, hurts, faults and failings – that would prevent us from beginning again, renewed in God’s grace. We rejoice in the Lord’s gracious mercy and constant help,” the bishop said.
He told the congregation they also thank God for the love of family and friends, for those with us in this life and those who have gone before us into eternal life, especially for God’s love revealed in and through friends and family. “And as we look to the year ahead, we ask God’s blessings on all our endeavors, to bless our loved ones, our community of faith and our world. He said we rejoice that the Lord is faithful now and always and that he is generous in his blessings.
“These days of festive celebration, then, invite us to begin this new year in a spirit of promise, hope and peace. We can do so confidently because God is with us. In fact, the Lord enriches us this morning with his word and sacrament. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we begin this new year feasting upon his abiding presence. In his word, we discover promise, hope and peace,” the bishop said.
The first reading recounted God’s promise to Noah after the flood. Bishop Woost said after 40 days and nights of rain, the flood cleansed the earth and purged transgressions of the past, bringing a new beginning when the flood waters receded. “Creation was recreated. Noah and his family are the recipients and stewards of a new life and a new era,” he added.
God created a covenant with Noah, his descendants and all creation, the bishop said. "This reading presents us with a divine declaration. God says what must be heard and believed. God promises to generate new life. God establishes a covenant with them."
However, God did not place any command, expectations, conditions or rules on Noah, his family and creation. Instead, he simply committed himself in relationship to them, resolves to be with them and declares that he will keep them and the world safe from annihilation and fill them with new life.
“This morning, at the dawn of a new year, this reading is God’s word to us. God’s promise to us. God remains with us – you and me. God remains faithful to us – to you and me,” the bishop said. “And so, this new year begins with God’s promise to us: I am with you. I am faithful. I will bring you new life.”
From this promise springs hope, Bishop Woost said, noting God’s promise to Noah was not an empty gesture in the past, but an abiding reality. That promise continues to be fulfilled because God is faithful, he added.
“With the dawning of a new year, thank God that God is near. Thank God, that God is faithful. Thank God, that God always fulfills God’s promises. Then, let God know what you hope for in this new year – make your requests known. Put your faith in God’s faithful love for you,” he said.
Bishop Woost told the congregation to be at peace and to give themselves completely over to God in faith because he will provide. “The Lord is near. His promise remains: I am with you. I am faithful. I will bring you new life.”
Although we do not know what the future will bring, he said we do know God’s word is true and he fulfills his promises.
“May God richly bless you, your families, your parish community and all those whom you love near and far, here and in heaven. God bless you. Happy new year,” he said.
After Mass, the bishop greeted parishioners and posed for photos before heading to the school hall to enjoy a traditional Vietnamese meal and entertainment.