Local Chinese Catholics celebrating the start of the Lunar New Year at Chinatown’s Catholic parish also prayed for the victims of Saturday night’s mass shooting in Monterey Park.
“We pray for those killed and injured in this shooting, and we ask that God stay close to their families and loved ones,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez in his Sunday Mass homily at St. Bridget Chinese Catholic Church Jan. 22.
Archbishop Gomez also blessed the parish’s newly built “evangelization center” and presided over the renewal of vows for parish couples celebrating wedding anniversaries during the morning visit to St. Bridget, a small church in the shadow of Dodger Stadium just north of downtown Los Angeles.
But the celebration was also tinged with sorrow. That morning, parishioners had awoken to news of 10 people killed and at least another 10 injured in a late-night gun rampage in Monterey Park, a heavily Asian-American city east of Los Angeles where thousands of people had gathered over the weekend for a two-day Lunar New Year festival.
The suspect in the shooting, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, was found dead in a Torrance parking lot on Sunday after apparently taking his own life. On Monday, Jan. 23, authorities announced an 11th person had died from the shooting.
“It’s a real gut punch,” said Darrel Ng, who grew up attending St. Bridget’s and had traveled from Sacramento to celebrate the Lunar New Year at the parish with his family.
Ng explained that for local Chinese immigrants, Monterey Park and Alhambra are considered suburbs of Chinatown, more residential areas that have welcomed more recent waves of Chinese immigrants. Most of the parishioners of St. Bridget are members or descendants of older generations of immigrants to LA, particularly from Cantonese-speaking areas of China like Hong Kong.
“I'm glad that we have an event like this for us to be with each other, and to understand the strength of the community,” Ng told Angelus.
Engeline Wong lives in Alhambra, near Monterey Park, but is an active parishioner at St. Bridget’s. She called the Lunar New Year Mass and Archbishop Gomez’s visit “a double happiness” but said the shooting was on her mind during the Mass.
“Monterey Park is a very safe city,” Wong said. “I never imagined something like this would happen there.”
The Mass was celebrated with Scripture readings used traditionally used by Catholics for the celebration of the lunar new year. The day’s Gospel, a passage of the Beatitudes from Matthew, seemed appropriate given the events hours earlier in Monterey Park.
“The Beatitudes tell us we need to live and work with humility and purity. We need to have a simple lifestyle. We need to bring a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, and try to be peacemakers in our relationships,” said Archbishop Gomez in his homily. “They tell us that we need to care for people in our society, we need to have a heart for the poor, and compassion for the vulnerable.”
They also, he added, tell us “that we need to live these values and these priorities, even if they are not popular or if they are opposed in our culture.”
Traditional red Chinese decorations were placed both inside and outside the church for the day’s festivities, and even the priests wore red vestments for the occasion.
The church was originally established in 1940 not as a parish, but as a mission center by Columban Father John Cowhig, an Irish priest who had previously served as a missionary in China. It was eventually taken over by Salesian priests and was formally recognized as a parish in 2000.
Salesian priest and Hong Kong native Father John Lam, 82, has been the pastor at St. Bridget’s since 2006. He said his parishioners are used to praying for peace, especially in their homeland, where Christians have suffered decades of repression. On Sunday, he was praying for those killed in Monterey Park and for the conversion of the gunman.
“Unfortunately, this happens too often in the USA,” said Lam.