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Culture, colour, faith meet for Lunar New Year celebrations

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Lion dancers make their way through Chatswood forecourt on 11 February. Photo: Supplied
Lion dancers make their way through Chatswood forecourt on 11 February. Photo: Supplied

A sea of red lanterns, yellow flowers and fireworks lit up Sydney’s churches last weekend to herald the arrival of Lunar New Year.

Thousands of Catholics merged faith and culture for three days of prayer, gifts, traditional dance and food, including at Sacred Heart Cabramatta, St Brendan’s Bankstown and Our Lady of Dolours Chatswood.

Lion dancers made their way through a swirling parade of parishioners in the Chatswood forecourt on Sunday 11 February after Mass, during the third day of celebrations for the success of the new year, the Year of the Dragon.

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Parishioners enjoyed food stalls and exchanged red envelopes in a celebration of cultural tradition that has found a home in Catholic parishes its common themes of renewal, peace, respect for family, and love of community.

“To celebrate our cultural diversity is to honour the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh,” said Chatswood parish priest Fr David Ranson PP VG.

“As the catechism puts it, and as St John Paul II kept reiterating … the celebration of the liturgy should correspond to the genius and culture of the different peoples.”

Masses on News Years Eve on Friday were offered as thanksgiving for the blessings God has bestowed on Asian Catholic migrants in Australia.

The second day of celebrations honoured deceased parents, grandparents, ancestors and martyrs of the faith.

Fr Toan Nguyen from St Brendan’s Bankstown was on a mission this year to help his Vietnamese community recognise the importance of the second day of celebrations.

He organised a children’s choir to lead the Mass for the deceased, and believes that culture can teach younger generations to spend more time in prayer and in turn appreciate their faith.

“We have to use our culture to evangelise and be a useful means to proclaim the Good News,” Fr Toan said.

“Not one country but many countries celebrate [Lunar New Year] and so we use that opportunity to reach the people of our country.”

Mt Saint Joseph College in Milperra moved their New Years Eve Mass into the parish hall to accommodate the overflowing number of parishioners.

Parish priest Fr Remy Lam Son Bui said the Catholic Church has thrived as a church of cultures, combining faith practice with community.

“The church supports growing faith and recognises each community’s natural cultural and social distinctiveness that helps individuals to connect and celebrate their faith in a much more positive way,” Fr Remy said.

“The church is a platform, and without it you begin to strip the identity of individuals and the community and subsequently lose faith.

“It is in the church where the cultural bond can be consolidated, developed and vice versa—their bonding helps bring the people together to support the church and celebrate the faith.”

Khiem Nguyen, the chairman of the Vietnamese Catholic community says faith always takes precedence over culture, but it is culture which helps inform the understanding of faith.

“We attest to our faith always, using our last and first days of the year to attend mass and show our gratitude and thanks to God for what has come and what is coming.”
“God is culturally a part of us.”

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