The Myanmar community at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Portland welcomes Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang. (Kim Nguyen/Catholic Sentinel)
The Myanmar community at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Portland welcomes Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang. (Kim Nguyen/Catholic Sentinel)

Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang, Bishop of Kalay Diocese in Myanmar and the current president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar, visited the Zomi Catholic community in Portland in September. This was his fifth visit to Oregon. The Zomi Catholic community members were from his own diocese in Myanmar before they came to the United States as refugees starting in 2008. There are more than 35 Zomi Catholic families living in Portland.

The Zomi Catholics were seeking a safe place and better future. They came through Malaysian, Thai and Indian refugee camps. Bishop Thang has been a tireless advocate for the refugees.

Francis Kham, leader of the local Zomi Catholics, said the bishop’s visit helps the whole Myanmar community.

“His intention is to ensure that the faithful Catholic community are well connected with the local parish in the way of not just spiritual needs but also the social needs,” Kham said.

Bishop Thang is concerned about the spiritual life of trefugees and Catholic education for children. He notes the help the Zomi have received from the Archdiocese of Portland through Catholic Charities.

The bishop visited Archbishop Alexander Sample, during which they discussed pastoral and social needs of the community. The archbishop has called the Zomi “the hidden faithful community in my diocese.”

Bishop Thang also visited Catholic Charities of Oregon and met with Deacon Richard Birkel, executive director, and his team. The topics were housing, social development and support for the Zomi community’s future.

The bishop traveled to Mount Angel Abbey and met with Abbot Jeremy Driscoll and other monks to discuss a future of faith formation for the Zomi.

Bishop Thang called education a way to break the cycle of poverty, both for children and adults. The bishop visited St. Therese School and the University of Portland. Though most Zomi Catholic children are not ready for higher education, the bishop discussed the financial challenges they will face in the future. Even at a discount, tuition is out of reach for the refugee families.

Kham invites all Catholics to experience the Zomi faith life. They gather for Mass at 3:30 p.m. Sundays at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland. Every Friday at 8 p.m., the community convenes in small prayer groups and shares the faith in homes. Every Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., there is liturgical music practice. Sundays from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. is time for catechism classes for youths and adults. There is an adult English class Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon and a sewing class.

Find out more

For more information, contact St. Joseph the Worker Parish or Kham at [email protected]