Altar servers' club marks 20 years at Chinese parish

By 
  • October 2, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Before his teen years, Robert Chan, 25, began attending Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Chinese parish of downtown Toronto for the past 40 years, and soon found a social haven with other Chinese youth in the altar servers’ club.

Little did he know that more than a decade later he would join hundreds at the altar servers’ club 20th anniversary Sept. 26 to celebrate a success story.

“I am really thankful for having the opportunity to see how our altar servers’ club developed over the years,” he told The Catholic Register. “It’s been a blessing to see the kids grow and to see them be inspired by actions of the senior members of the club and follow in their footsteps.”
The parish has struggled with retaining a membership that travels from all over the Greater Toronto Area because it used to be the only Chinese parish in the archdiocese. Most parishioners in their 30s or 40s have migrated to other parishes in the last 10 years, causing a large age gap — parishioners are mostly seniors or immigrant, Mandarin-speaking parents with small children, Chan said. But the altar servers’ club has had 25-30 members since 1999, mostly boys.

“Before, it had trouble keeping youth past (high school) and what you’d notice is once they left the club they would also stop going to church,” he said.

Since World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto that has changed, he said, because the  experience helped cement their faith and strengthened the bonds of friendship. Besides the usual duties of an altar server, members help out as lectors, singers in the choir or wherever there is a need. In the past few years, the club has organized rafting trips, camping trips, pilgrimages such as the most recent one to World Youth Day in Sydney and much more. The group also keeps busy with fundraisers like a joint charity event this month with other Chinese parishes to help victims of war.

One of the biggest changes since 2002 was the introduction of an English youth Mass, at the request of the youth group’s co-ordinator, Simon Yuen Chan said that although many of the older club members still help out at the Cantonese Mass, having the Mass said in English later on Sunday brought them a deeper understanding of Scripture and Christ’s teachings.

“In the Chinese Mass, the readings are very formal — it’s kind of like if we were to read Shakespeare in school, so it’s really hard to understand,” he said, adding that spoken Chinese is much different than what appears at the Cantonese Mass.

Despite this, he still attends both Masses on Sunday.

As the president of the club, Chan said he is glad to see university students are finally part of the club’s makeup. He also appreciates the new role they play in helping the recent influx of Mandarin-speaking children improve their English and adapt to Canadian culture.

But he — and many of the other club members, he added — have Yuen to thank. A parishioner since he was six years old, Yuen was asked by their former pastor, the late Fr. John Mak, to start the club from scratch.

In 20 years, he brought it through a lot of restructuring. Sometimes, he even paid out of his own pocket to help out with some of the costs of retreats and events, Chan added.

“I’m trying to help them in finding themselves within the parish community,” Yuen said.

For Yuen, keeping the group going was important. He said the current pastor, Fr. Peter Chin, has been open minded when it comes to new ideas. When Yuen suggested the English Mass, Chin gave him the go-ahead to invite guest priests Scarboro Missions Father Michael Traher and Spiritan Father Paul McCauley who had more experience in celebrating Mass for youth.

“Our youth are the parishioners of tomorrow and so it’s important to go on,” Yuen said.

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