By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A full-scale celebration of the Lunar New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan) returned to Sacred Heart Cathedral on Jan. 22 after two years of scaled-back events. The Vietnamese Catholic community celebrated Mass and hosted a reception afterwards with homemade food, dance, singing and other activities.
Trein Martin Ngo of Sacred Heart parish said the Lunar New Year focuses on God, family and being happy. For the Vietnamese, this is the year of the cat. “People born in the year of the cat are very intelligent and honest. They are also sensitive, watchful, have a rich inner life and like to be peaceful.”
Vietnam and China share 10 of the 12 zodiac signs, Ngo said. This is one of the two years that the two do not share the same sign. The Chinese are celebrating the year of the rabbit. Ngo believes the cat is a good animal to recognize. “Cats are in the rice fields and are prized by farmers,” he said. “Rice is a huge part of Vietnam’s agriculture. But with the threat of many rats in the fields, the cats can hunt and are a popular animal for the Vietnamese.”
Father Thang Hoang, SVD, rector of Divine Word Seminary in Epworth, Iowa presided at Mass, celebrated primarily in Vietnamese. Concelebrants were Bishop Thomas Zinkula; Father Joseph Phung, pastor of Holy Family Parish-Fort Madison; Father Alan Bower of Cross Catholic Outreach, who was preaching at cathedral Masses; and seven priests from Divine Word. Deacons Dan Huber and John Jacobsen assisted.
After battery-operated firecrackers went off, the sound of a gong and a drumbeat signaled the Vietnamese choir to sing and the opening procession of the Mass began. Lay participants in the procession wore traditional attire, carried flowers and incense. They preceded the clergy.
“Welcome to our celebration of faith today,” Father Hoang said. “Are you happy today?” “Yes,” the crowd responded in English and Vietnamese. “If you are happy on the first day of the new year, you will be happy the rest of the year,” he told the congregation. “Put on a happy face. Put on God’s happiness today. Put your worries aside. Let us celebrate with one another this Eucharist.”
During his homily, Father Hoang asked which members were born under the sign of the year of the cat. He noted that cats live for relationships. “What should you take away from this year of the cat? We should spend more time building our relationship with God, others and the poor. To live is to live in relationship with others from the moment we wake up until we lie down.”
He encouraged people to forget their worries and offer care and affection. “Learn from the cat to treasure relationships. Build a relationship with God and it will last forever. Take time to care for one another. To be with one another. To enrich one another’s lives.”
Before the closing prayer, Father Hoang asked people in attendance ages 65 and older to come forward for a blessing. Members of the congregation extended their right hand for the blessing, which Bishop Zinkula read. The congregation and Father Hoang blessed Bishop Zinkula, who is 65.
People in the congregation under age 21 were called to the front of the cathedral to receive a red envelope of “lucky money” ($1). Following Mass, the reception filled the diocesan hall. Due to the exceptionally large attendance, extra tables and chairs were set in the gathering space. Bishop Zinkula blessed the homemade food. The afternoon included dances, magic tricks, singing and prizes. Ngo noted that many Vietnamese locally and worldwide have been able to travel back to Vietnam after three years of COVID-19 restrictions.