The state of Wisconsin is home to many citizens of Asian Pacific Island communities of origin. For example, Wisconsin is home to the third largest Hmong community in the United States, following California and Minnesota.
Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were the first large number of refugees resettled in the U.S. in the aftermath of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian wars against Communism. The presence of Asian Pacific Islanders in North America goes back hundreds of years. The first recorded presence of Filipinos dates to the 1550s. Chinese were present in the 18th century. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 limited the influx of Chinese immigration until 1943. Armenians were present in North America before independence. The large Syrian and Lebanese migration goes back to the 1880s. Recorded Iranian presence was as early as 1618. East Indians came to North America as early as the 17th century — before independence — tied to British East Indian Company. In the 1870s, Japanese started coming in significant numbers. The internment of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the United States’ historical blemishes. Palestinians, mostly Christians, started migrating to the USA in the early 1900s. Hawaii, the 50th U. S. state, is also part of the Asian Pacific Islands.
The concept of Americanism, assimilation and integration needs constant evaluation. Celebrating cultural diversity should be part of the process of learning about each other as people of diverse backgrounds, bonded for a common destiny. Like Asians, discrimination against indigenous Hawaiians in the mainland is common. Paying attention to the pastoral needs and social welfare of Asian Pacific Island communities is more critical than ever. Lately, we are witnessing anti-Asian sentiment and attacks, which should be unacceptable. The Church should condemn this in the strongest way possible. Such an outgrowth of racism and xenophobia festers because there is a fertile ground of silence. Racists and xenophobic people are few and far between, yet a complacent society emboldens them, perpetuating racism. This is contrary to the Church’s identity, born of the Pentecost experience, when people “gathered from every nation under heaven” hearing “the mighty acts of God.” Our faith is about encountering Christ, preaching the Gospel to all nations.
The Church celebrates unity in diversity, referring to various Christian traditions, ritual practices and ecclesial disciplines of “equal right and dignity.” The Catholic Church not only tolerates and accommodates; she encourages communities to encounter Christ in their own cultural milieu, purifying, elevating and consecrating to be the same mind of Christ. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is the home of many of these Catholic communities. They encompass various Christian traditions, rituals, spirituality, and devotional expressions concomitant to their cultural traditions. The Annual Asian Pacific Island Unity Mass displays the beauty of such diversity. Marian icons and devotions express visually the diversity, representing each tradition. May, celebrating Asian Pacific Island Heritage month, highlights the special devotion to the Virgin Mary exhibited by these Catholic communities.
The Asian Pacific Island Catholic presence in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee goes back more than 100 years. Local ordinaries are responsible for looking after the pastoral care of the Catholic faithful of various ritual traditions and ethnic/language communities within their jurisdiction. (CCL #383: 1-4) The Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Ministries is a concrete example of such pastoral care. There are also particular parishes, serving specific ritual traditions or language groups in the archdiocese.
The Eastern Rites are St. George Melkite, belonging to the Eparchy of Newton (Boston). Their website states, “The community was founded over a hundred years ago to serve the needs of Christians from the Middle East — Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan.” The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara founded by the Apostle Thomas have respective Eparchies the USA. For example, the Syro-Malabar (Chicago) and Syro-Malankara (New York). Other Eastern Rite Catholic traditions present in the area as individuals or communities are Maronite, Chaldeans, etc. The Armenian Christian Orthodox Church is also present in the Milwaukee area.
The rest of the Asian Pacific Island Catholics in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee belong to the Latin Rite. For example, Indian Latin Rite Catholics gather regularly for Mass. Other Catholics present are Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Hmong, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Laotians, Burmese (Myanmar), Indonesian, Guam, Hawaiians, etc. The Filipino Catholic community, integrated in various parishes, gather for Marian devotions (rosary) throughout the year. However, the highlight of the Filipino contribution is Simbang Gabi, Novena Masses, a spiritual preparation for Christmas. The following communities have specific sites of worship: Koreans (St. Mary Magdalene), Hmong (St. Michael Milwaukee and St. Peter Claver, Sheboygan) and Vietnamese (St. Martin of Tours, Franklin). The fastest growing group is the Myanmar (Burmese) Catholic community, which is the youngest, with young families and little children. Catholics of Asian Pacific Island origin bring unique spirituality and devotional practices, enriching the rest of us. Tolerance and accommodation is the first step; however, the primary goal is embracing and including them into the fabric of the Catholic Church. We should re-assess the old biased notion of Catholicism and Americanism, favoring one group and excluding others. Celebrating Asian Pacific Island Heritage helps us to acquire cultural humility, overcoming our biases and othering attitudes.
We have to highlight the contribution of the Asian Pacific Islander cmmunity to the archdiocese. Several religious and clergy of Asian Pacific Island origin serve in various aspects of pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. For example, the Indian Catholic community in Milwaukee is a microcosm of diversity, whose clergy and religious represent the Eastern and Latin Rite, serving as bi-rituals. Fostering priestly vocation among Asian Pacific Island Catholic communities is encouraging. There are some permanent deacons, and we are hoping more will follow. The growing interest in ministry leadership has been positive, requiring more resources to sustain and retain involvement in the growth of the emerging Catholic communities. For the Asian Pacific Island Catholic community to grow and sustain, investing in the emerging leadership will be critical.
Happy Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.