Held on September 30 at the Mass Centre in Holy Family Catholic School, Parafield Gardens, the anniversary Mass was celebrated by Fr Roderick O’Brien, who played a part in the establishment of the community in 2013. Concelebrating on the day were Fr Peter Zin and Fr Lucas Myint from the Burmese community in Melbourne, Salisbury parish priest Fr Shibu Jacob MSFS, Fr James Thomson and Deacon Arturo Jimenea.
Fittingly, the Mass was spoken in English and Burmese, with prayers of intercession giving thanks for the welcome and support offered to the refugees over the years. They also recognised the unrest that continues to permeate in Myanmar today and there was a prayer for peace to prevail.
In his homily Fr Roderick drew on the text from St Paul: ‘I thank my God, each time I think of you; And when I pray for you, I pray with joy’.
“It was a great joy for me to celebrate the 10-year Mass and to see so many people there and the support of visitors from Melbourne was wonderful,” he said afterwards.
Fr Roderick told The Southern Cross it was an honour to have played a small part in the establishment of the Myanmar community when he was parish priest at Salisbury.
The community had its early origins in 2008 when three Catholic Chin families arrived in Adelaide and began attending Sunday Mass at St Finbar Church, Salisbury. (The Catholic Chin are a minority group from western Myanmar and were among tens of thousands of Chin who fled their homeland because of mistreatment by their neighbours and the government.)
“In Salisbury parish we had many new migrants…we had simple facilities and a spare church (the original St Augustine’s), so the families from Myanmar were welcomed to gather there,” Fr Roderick explained.
“The real welcomers were the Salisbury parishioners and the parish staff.
“I remember that members of the community could not speak English and some were employed as day labourers on the market gardens.”
Over time, Fr Roderick introduced these early members – Augustine Tang Sian Dal, Paul Hau Sian Tuang Suk and Ngaithang Law – to Salesian priest Fr William Matthews SDB, who was born in Myanmar and was then serving as the chaplain at Xavier College.
This connection was the catalyst for a milestone event in 2010, when the Burmese Archbishop Felix Lian Khen Thang visited the by now five newly immigrated Chin Catholic families living in Adelaide.
Strengthened by this bond, the families celebrated Christmas together at one of their homes in 2012, and the Myanmar Catholic Community was formed.
Since then the community has gone from strength to strength, with more refugees arriving over the years. Now about 50 families gather at Holy Family Catholic School every Sunday afternoon for praying rosary, catechism and adoration.
While Fr Roderick said he had lost contact with members of the community since moving from Salisbury, he had been so inspired by them that he had visited Myanmar a few years ago.
“I recall the welcoming by the people, especially the Salesians, and the resilience of the people who were affected by serious floods,” he said.
The Myanmar community continues to be under the pastoral care of the Salisbury parish and Fr Shibu, who spoke at the anniversary Mass, said parishioners enjoyed the bond that had been formed with them.
“Most of the people have come to Australia as refugees and the parish has provided a lot of support to them over the years,” he said.
“However, as the community has grown the older members of the Myanmar community are now able to assist the new arrivals, so it’s been beautiful to witness this transition and such a lovely example of nurturing.
“It is a strong and tight knit community and their connection to the parish is high. Their biggest gift is faith and they are very devout Catholics. Faith formation and regular catechism is very important to them.”
Fr Shibu said the community had formed a choir which sings regularly at Mass, it had a “vibrant” youth group and 16 Myanmar children were altar servers.
With about 200 members, the community is hoping that one day it will be able to regularly worship in Burmese. Currently, a priest travels from Melbourne every three months to celebrate Mass with the community and Fr Shibu said discussions were underway to have a permanent priest in Adelaide.
The anniversary Mass was attended by about 180 people. Afterwards the celebrations continued with entertainment and a dinner, both reflecting the Myanmar culture.Jump to next article