By Mary Wisniewski
|Above, members of the Burmese community with Michael and Rey Lopez Mader. Below, first communicants.
For Today’s Catholic
SAN ANTONIO • The first official gathering of the new Burmese Catholic Conference of Texas took place June 25-26 at St. Matthew Church. Burmese Catholics of all ages traveled from Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Amarillo and Austin to join those living in the Alamo City for a vibrant weekend of spiritual, educational and social events for the purpose of showing support for each other.
The people had to flee their homes in Burma (Myanmar) and were living in refugee camps in Thailand. In the last four years, many Burmese Catholics have been resettled in various cities through the United States. In San Antonio, they are assisted by the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program.
The gathering included talks by Burmese Father Philip Aung Nge, Father Stephen Mahn Thapwa (from the Diocese of Wichita, Kan.) and four Sisters of St. Francis Xavier (from Jacksonville, Fla.) on the themes of prayer and the importance of education. Meetings were held to elect a leadership team that included a representative from each city.
The spiritual highlight of the weekend was the Saturday afternoon Mass that included 17 baptisms, 28 first communions and the weddings of five couples. During the Mass, the people prayed and sang in their own language.
St. Matthew’s Refugee Support Ministry, led by Michael and Rey Lopez Mader, assisted with this event. They worked with parishioners and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to gather donations of suits and white dresses so that all the couples and first communicants had attire appropriate for the occasion. They also assisted with transportation and facility arrangements. In gratitude for their contributions, the Burmese presented the Mader’s with a gift of native clothing of the Karenni tribe.
The community themselves contributed funds and the local Burmese purchased and prepared a feast for Saturday evening, including beef and pork dish favorites to feed the over 250 participants. They offered hospitality in their homes for the visitors.
In Texas, there has been a large influx of Catholic Burmese refugees in recent years, with 300 living in Houston, 200 in Dallas, 200 in San Antonio, 100 in Fort Worth and 60 in Austin. Father Aung Nge is making efforts for a Burmese priest to be stationed in Texas to serve the community. He has been in a master’s degree program at St. Joseph Seminary in New York. From there, he has been traveling to offer Mass and the sacraments to Burmese now living in the United States, visiting over 45 cities in 25 states.
For more information, contact Tom Hoog, Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program volunteer coordinator, at (210) 242-3104, or Michael Mader of St. Matthew’s Refugee Support Ministry at (210) 912-4165.
Mary Wisniewski is director of the archdiocesan Office of Mission Awareness.