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Chautauqua collection to
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placeholder September 9, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
Chautauqua collection to aid grieving Richmond family

As representatives of the ethnic and pastoral centers throughout the diocese began their final preparations for the Chautauqua 18, the joyous "gathering of people," sad news reached the committee from the Kmhmú community.

Chautauqua 18

"Mary, Queen of the World, Lead Us To Be Faithful Disciples of Jesus"

Oct. 12, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

St. Jarlath Church, 2620 Pleasant St., Oakland

Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ

Entertainment and food will follow

Three members of a family known for their care for the community died from a fire in the small home they rented in Richmond. The mother and father died, along with their eldest son, in the July 5 fire, leaving behind five adult children.

As planners moved forward with the Oct. 12 liturgy — which will be celebrated by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ — and the entertainment and food that are an integral part of the event, they decided to find a way to show that their hearts were with the Viengvilai family.

It has become a tradition at Chautauqua to take up a collection at Mass — at a recent event, it was used to support the work of Deacon Stanley Lee in the Philippines. The organizing committee decided that the collection at Chautauqua 18 will support the Vingviliat family.

Sister Felicia Sarati, director of the ethnic pastoral and cultural centers, said that while all immigrant communities face challenges in the Bay Area, the struggles of the Kmhmú, who came to the area as refugees, is especially poignant.

"We've got to reach out to those who have the least of everything," she said.

The planners agreed wholeheartedly.

Sister Michaela O'Connor, who with Father Donald MacKinnon has worked for more than 20 years with the Kmhmú, said the family can use the help, with the five surviving children trying to stay together. One of the five is developmentally challenged, as was the brother who died in the fire.

The Kmhmú, she said, are very shy people, and do not like to be the center of attention. She said it was unlikely that the children would appear in the procession at Chautauqua.

"They never had enough," she said of the family. "They are very poor. Whenever we needed help, they were the first on the scene, to work, to help, do whatever needed to be done."

The father, Mearn Leepon, who was unable to work, never missed Mass, which for the Kmhmú is 8:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul Church in San Pablo.

Work sometimes kept the mother Bounkeo Viengvilai from attending, but "She always wanted to be there," Sister Michaela said.

The children were students of Sister Michaela, whose ministry with the Kmhmú goes back 22 years. "I had every single one for First Communion," she said.

They never had enough," she said of the family. "They are very poor."

But whenever someone in the community needed help, they "were the first on the scene, to work, to help, do whatever needed to be done," the Holy Family sister said.

"They were just a loving family, all the way around," she said. Just weeks before the fire, the family home had been a place of celebration: the youngest daughter graduated from high school, with hopes of following her sister's footsteps and graduating from college.

The family's sorrow extends to the entire community, which Sister Michaela described as "like one big, extended family."

"The whole community was just devastated," she said, with community members coming from Portland, Seattle, Petaluma and Stockton for the funeral. "As many could come, came," she said.

There are about 6,000 Kmhmú in the United States; about 1,000 in the Richmond area. Sister Michaela estimated about 125 families are Catholic.

More information on how to help the family can be obtained through the Kmhmú Pastoral Center, 2215 Rose St., Berkeley 94709, or email to frkunpah@gmail.com.

Among the plans for the Mass are the Unity Choir, of at least 70 people, of many different languages; a liturgical dance by girls ages 8 to 15; and a variety of voices for readings and intentions. Bishop Barber plans to greet each group in its native language, and will be the homilist. This is his first Chautauqua.

Eight ethnic groups had signed up to entertain after the Mass, and many made plans to sell ethnic specialties at food booths.

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