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Home : Special Features : Asian American Catholics
7/14/2010 9:50:00 AM
At Portland parish, young Korean Catholics grow together in faith
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice  Keating
Rose Lim, Stella Sonu, Ashley Esgate, Joon Zun Yi, Jenny Park, Eddie Kim  and Tina Bodnar sing and play liturgical music during Mass.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Rose Lim, Stella Sonu, Ashley Esgate, Joon Zun Yi, Jenny Park, Eddie Kim and Tina Bodnar sing and play liturgical music during Mass.
Clarice Keating
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Bridging the generation gap can be difficult, but on one issue in particular, Korean Catholics young and old see eye-to-eye: Mass on Sunday is not optional. At the Church of Korean Martyrs, Portland’s only Korean Catholic church, this is evident by the number of teens and young adults who participate in the weekly youth Mass. Parents often come, too.

Euri Oh, 14, attends with her mom. Oh recognizes the importance of the weekly ritual, but is still, after all, a teenager. Sometimes, she says, her mom has to show a little tough love.

“If I don’t get up, the blankets get thrown off,” she said.

But most of the youth, who have been part of the parish since they were small children, look forward to Mass and youth group. Church activities give them a chance to catch up with one another about what’s been happening during the week in their respective neighborhoods.

Beyond fellowship, finding ways to show how faith is relevant in the lives of these teens, who have grown up in the secular American culture of television and texting, remains a challenge.

One of those tactics is music. Tina Bodnar invites all young parishioners who are interested in music to perform during the liturgy at the youth Mass. On any given day, this group could include a bassist, a percussionist sitting at a drum kit and a row of vocalists.

“They already have this joy of music, but a lot of them are classically trained,” Bodnar said. “This is a different genre for them.”

Breakout sessions during youth group, scheduled at 11 a.m. after the 10 a.m. youth Mass, serve as practice time for the musicians. They play the same songs for a few weeks to better learn the sheet music. That way the parishioners, too, become more familiar with the musical selections.

Alex Lim, 16, sees the members of the orchestra taking ownership of their parish.

“It keeps them connected,” he said. “It makes them feel like they are part of something, they have vital roles. They see how we need everyone.”

Lim’s parents come along to the youth Mass. His grandparents usually attend the traditional Mass later in the day.

“It’s a must,” he said, of getting up for church. “You can’t miss at all. But it’s natural, just embedded in me [to come each week].”

Like most of the kids who are part of the parish, Lim speaks Korean at home and English during youth group and at school. The youth Mass is celebrated in a blend of English and Korean.

John Oh, youth ministry leader, spent last year trying to find new, creative ways to engage the young Catholics.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” he said, adding that he tries to incorporate science, history and apologetics into the lessons, which are presented in various media. He posts on his blog tidbits he finds interesting, relevant or inspirational.

One thing that keeps the kids together, working as a team outside of the walls of the church so they can be more united while they’re at Mass, are parish sports teams. They compete in soccer and baskeball against teens and young adults from other Korean churches in the area, which are mostly Protestant.

Korean Catholics, approximately 150 in number, gathered together in 1979 in the Convent of the Holy Names in Marylhurst to celebrate Mass in their native tongue for the first time in Oregon.

From that notable July day, the group has endured and thrived. For many years, the community practiced its faith at St. Anthony Parish in Southeast Portland, an area in the center of where immigrant families were moving.

After much advocacy on the part of Auxiliary Bishop Paul Waldschmidt, the Korean Catholics finally had their own parish in 1990.

In 1996, after purchasing the property on Powell Boulevard, Archbishop Francis George dedicated a home for the group.

“We’re welcoming,” Lim said, of the identifying characteristic of his church. “We’re diverse, too. Even though there are many Koreans, we’re accepting of everyone.”

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