INDIANAPOLIS — Angela Dim lives in southern Indianapolis, far from the Zomi (pronounced ZOH-mee) region of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where she was raised in the Catholic faith.
The refugee is grateful to the Zomi Chin Catholic Community at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. And she is grateful to worship Mass there, mostly in English but twice a month in her mother tongue.
But it’s still not the same as worshiping Mass in his homeland, surrounded by Zomi customs and culture, and his homeland feels every moment of his 8,200-mile distance.
That distance was bridged July 8-10 when Dim was surrounded by more than 1,000 members of her native tribe gathered from across the United States for the Third American Zomi National Eucharistic Congress, held at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. .
“When we go to English or other Chin Masses, we know that (Jesus) is present,” she said. “But when so many (Zomi) sing and worship and worship in our own language, we feel more satisfied, like the feeling we have back home (in Myanmar). We can express our prayers better.
It was Dim’s first time competing in the national event. It was the first time the event was held in Indianapolis.
After an evening of conviviality and fun on July 8, the heart of the Eucharistic Congress began the next morning with Mass in the auxiliary gymnasium of Roncalli. A quick look around the parking lot revealed license plates from at least 14 states, some as far away as Minnesota, Texas, Maryland and Alabama.
As mass began, a line of Zomi wearing their clan’s traditional dress sang as they marched down the aisle of the makeshift church in slow steps, back and forth to the beat of a lone drummer. .
Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, shepherd of the last diocese to host the gathering, was the main celebrant of the Mass.
“I must apologize if I am difficult to understand,” he said as a Zomi priest translated. “I’m afraid my Burmese accent sounds a bit like English.”
The mass was followed by an open-air Eucharistic procession that wound halfway around the large high school and its adjoining gymnasiums, performing arts center and chapel.
“That was my favorite part” of the weekend, Dim told the Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. “I had never seen this before. It was so beautiful. Some were silent, some were singing quietly, some were praying the rosary. It was a very long line.
With “Behold the Lamb of God” as the theme, the congress included catechetical sessions on confession, the Eucharist and the celebration of Mass. Each talk was offered in adult, young adult and youth tracks. There was also adoration and Sunday mass.
“We chose the theme because the bishops of the United States have started the national Eucharistic revival,” said Father Robert Kim, a Zomi priest from the Diocese of Tulsa who started the American Zomi National Eucharistic Congress in 2018.
The 2019 convention was also held in Tulsa, which has the largest Zomi Catholic population in the country. Then came the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Lucy Vung-Nu, a young Catholic woman from Illinois, was attending the convention for the first time.
“It’s so amazing to see so many Zomi Catholics gathered in one place,” she said enthusiastically. “Where I’m from in Illinois, there aren’t a lot of Zomi as opposed to other Burmese tribes so it was really special for me to see so many of this ethnicity there.”
Indianapolis was chosen for this year’s convention because it has the second-largest Zomi Catholic population in the nation.
“It’s like we’re starting over,” said Nicholas Mung of Oklahoma City, who missed the event due to the pandemic. “Now we continue to learn how the Eucharist fits into our lives. We continue to learn how to build our faith, especially for our children. I’m really really happy!”
“The whole weekend has been very faith-filled,” said Rusty Albertson, director of evangelism for St. Mark the Evangelist Parish. “There was a lot of excitement and a lot of reverence, especially during Eucharistic adoration. People were kneeling even in the stands.
“The Burmese people, that’s the norm for them – participation, singing, respect,” he added. “When one of the reasons you become a refugee is to practice your religion, it puts your faith first.”
Kim, who is pastor of Zomi Chin’s only parish in the United States, shared with The Criterion how important faith is to Zomi Catholics.
“In my home diocese (in Myanmar), every morning we had mass in the parish (church) at 6 a.m., Monday to Friday,” he recalls. “Always at Mass, there were 70 to 100 people.”
Many tribes began to flee Myanmar from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, victims of attacks by both the government and anti-government rebels.
Before being settled in the United States, many Zomi were sent to refugee camps in Malaysia, Kim said.
“It’s a Muslim country,” he noted. “Economically, there were many Chinese-led companies. We needed jobs, so we worked in Chinese restaurants which were busy on weekends, so we couldn’t go to mass. We didn’t have the opportunity to confess.
“It made us feel a strong desire for the sacraments,” he said. “We come to the United States and we have the freedom to go to mass and go to confession.”
In addition to helping Zomi Catholics grow in their faith, the eucharistic congress also serves as a meeting, Kim said.
“We meet people from our hometowns or people we met in the refugee camps,” Kim said. “We would never have imagined meeting in the United States! It’s a great divine providence beyond our imagination — after 10 or 15 years, we meet again!
The next American Zomi National Eucharistic Congress will be held in Nashville, Tennessee on July 8-9, 2023.
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Hoefer is an editor at Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.