Members of the University of Toronto Chinese Catholic Club used to meet in person but for the past 15 months have resorted to weekly Zoom meetings. Photo courtesy of University of Toronto Chinese Catholic Club

Members right at home in Chinese Catholic Club

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • June 9, 2021

Gabrielle Tsai’s adjustment to life in Toronto after moving from Vancouver had its challenges, but the fellowship of the University of Toronto’s Chinese Catholic Club (UTCCC) made her feel right at home.

“As I moved away from home, joining the UTCCC made my transition easier by giving me a sense of belonging and support. The club was almost like a ‘safe bubble’ to be with other young Chinese Catholics,” said the 20-year-old, who majors in human biology, psychology and bioethics.

The UTCCC was founded in 2001 by a group of students from Hong Kong who were seeking  something a “bit more like home” in Toronto, namely a community which shared the same Catholic beliefs and Chinese cultural identity.

“For most of us in the club, our parents are immigrants — we are in (the) minority. So that is why it is so important to have a community that understands your faith and the way you grew up,” continued Tsai, UTCCC’s vice-president of administration.

Sponsored by the Newman Centre, the university’s residency chaplaincy department, the UTCCC hosted group meetings and sacramental events in person before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, weekly meetings take place over Zoom and focus on three main pillars: catechesis, community prayer and social life.

This emphasis on tight-knit fellowship is welcome to Tsai, who said the UTCCC is always there for her, even at her most trying moments.

“Even though I had always grown up Catholic, due to some anti-religious courses I was taking at school, I was struggling with my faith. I shared my doubts and asked my questions to the club which helped to set my morals straight again.”

Throughout his academic career, 19-year-old Jonah Nung, a music studies major, has never experienced a formal Catholic education. So the value of a club where you are empowered to speak about spiritual matters and deepen your faith bears special significance.

“The club is a great resource as you can share, grow spiritually and engage in meaningful discussions with people who understand where you come from. Oftentimes, the Chinese cultural element doesn’t always manifest itself in meetings, but we share a common set of specific experiences in growing up Chinese,” said Nung, the club’s VP of logistics.

“We like to pray the rosary and the lecto divina together as a group. As well, the opportunity to share testimonies always encourages members in their faith,” said Karen Kuang, outgoing president of the UTCCC.

Although the 22-year-old was initially a self-described “reluctant president,” during her presidency, she has broadened the club from traditionally an alumni-focused group to accept more undergraduate students and members not of Chinese descent, forging a strong, diverse and youthful community.

“There is a pretty tight-knit community of Chinese Catholic clubs all across the province. Yearly, the UTCCC participates in two retreats, in the fall and winter semesters, with CCCs at other Ontario universities like Western, McMaster and Waterloo,” said Kuang, who just concluded her fourth year pursuing a major in biomedical toxicology and pharmacology.

In addition to being interconnected with several other clubs across Ontario, the UTCCC collaborates with a Chinese Catholic community in Eastern Canada, which includes six Chinese Catholic parishes. The Eastern Canada Chinese Catholic Living Camp hosts retreats every Labour Day weekend for roughly 150 Chinese teens and young adults.

(Vecchiato, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.) 

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