There was a flurry of noise and colour as the Chinese New Year celebrations unfolded in St Monica’s Church, North Parramatta, on 14 February.
St Monica’s Parish Priest and Chinese Chaplain, Rev Luis Fernando Montaño Rodriguez MG, was the principal celebrant for the Mass, which was concelebrated by Mons John Boyle and Rev Clement Hill.
The church was adorned with the sights and sounds of China, with hanging Chinese lanterns adding a splash of red and orange to the milieu.
Members of the Chinese community welcomed each other with a Happy New Year greeting: “Kung Hei Fat Choy!”
A banquet lunch followed at Phoenix Restaurant located in Westfield Shopping Centre, Parramatta.
“It was a big celebration of life, joy, community spirit and the richness of the Chinese culture,” Fr Fernando said.
In China, families gather for the New Year to take part in a 15-day festival and enjoy meals, gift exchanges, parades, fireworks and theatre.
Making wishes for luck, prosperity and good fortune, and warding off evil spirits, are central to the Chinese New Year celebration.
Every year, a zodiac animal is featured; 2016 is the year of the fire monkey.
Enjoying the cultural experience of the Lunar New Year festivities and dressed in Chinese attire, Fr Fernando took part in the traditional Chinese ‘eye opening’ ceremony of the dramatic lion dance.
There was a burst of sound in the restaurant as the Chinese drum rolled. Two young women donned helmet doll masks, as two others stepped into the lion costume.
As the lion sat on the ground, Fr Fernando dotted the lion’s eyes to wake him from his slumber and imbue his spirit.
The Southern Lion represented in the performance is associated with the legend of a mythical monster called Nian.
The lion worked its way around the tables, interacting with diners. The rhythmic and sprightly music continued as the lion operators danced in unison.
Spectators fed the lion with red envelopes filled with money to help fundraise for the youth of the Chinese Chaplaincy attending World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, in July.
Tony Ng and Krystal Au represented the youth and directed the running of the day.
The day’s activities not only offered an up-close and personal view of the country’s customs and culture, but also provided a hands-on opportunity for the non-Chinese present to practise eating with chopsticks.
Sr Angeles Melero MN of the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and her fellow Spanish Sisters relished the opportunity.
Guided by onlookers, they learnt quickly, diving into the bowls of delicious Chinese cuisine with the chopsticks at hand.
Originally from Mexico, Fr Fernando is the first non-Chinese Chaplain for the Chinese Catholic community at St Monica’s.
He speaks Spanish, English and Cantonese, and knows Chinese sign language.
As he engaged with those who attended the New Year lunch, he could be heard speaking all three languages.
Parishioners were eager to get a photo with the energetic young priest.
Allison Hamilton, Parish Secretary of St Monica’s, said Fr Fernando makes the parish unique. “He is very clever. He is brilliant in everything that he does. He gets involved with everyone,” she said.
“He is the best boss I have ever had. He is so caring and he would do anything for anyone!”
The parish is a cultural hub with 40% of the congregation being Chinese. Mass in Chinese is celebrated every Sunday at 11.30am in St Monica’s Church, North Parramatta.
To view a gallery of photos from the event, visit: www.flickr.com/parracatholic/albums