SAN DIEGO — Father Anthony Yang, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, has served for almost eight years as chaplain to the San Diego Chinese Catholic Community.
Born in 1981 in Shaanxi, China, Father Yang was ordained to the priesthood on Aug. 25, 2014, also in Shaanxi.
Since July of 2021, he has served as associate pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Hillcrest. Previously, he ministered at Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parishes.
Question: What role did the Catholic faith play in your formative years?
Answer: In the small Chinese village where I grew up, everyone was Catholic. My parents took me to Mass with them almost every day as a child. I essentially grew up in the church.
One day, when I was 10 or 11 years old, the pastor asked me to be an altar server. When I was about 16, he asked my parents to talk to me about whether I would be interested in entering the seminary.
My mother supported the idea, but in the beginning, my father didn’t. I’m the oldest son and, in China, it is tradition that the oldest son takes care of the parents in their old age. About two years into the seminary, I had my father’s support, too.
Why did you opt to join a religious order instead of continuing at the diocesan seminary?
Following a brother priest’s recommendation, I visited the Society of the Divine Word’s center in Beijing, where I learned about the Society’s history and missionary work.
I was told that, if ordained for the Society, I wouldn’t necessarily serve in China. I might be sent to another country – maybe in Europe, America or Africa. I would have to learn another language and encounter different cultures, traditions and people. That appealed to me because I am interested in other cultures; I felt that I could learn from them and experience God through them.
At age 20, I joined the Society of the Divine Word. I went through a two-year period to see whether I was a good fit for religious life, which involves getting along well with the other members of the religious community. Then, I made my first profession of vows on July 14, 2005. After that, I continued my seminary studies for another eight years.
I professed perpetual vows on Feb. 27, 2014, in Taiwan, and was ordained to the priesthood on Aug. 25, 2014, in Shaanxi Province.
Religious order priests live together in community. It reminds me of how Jesus sent out His disciples two by two to preach the Good News. Community life is very important to me. Priests don’t have spouses, but we’re human, so I need to have other people to talk to and to support me.
What can you tell us about the San Diego Chinese Catholic Community, which you serve as chaplain?
Locally, the Chinese Catholic Community gathers at St. Therese of Carmel Parish.
I celebrate a Mass for the community on Sunday afternoons. About 60 to 70 people attend. Because many of the newly arrived and older Chinese immigrants cannot speak English, the Mass is celebrated in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Every year, Chinese-language RCIA is available for those who want to join the Catholic Church; this year, the community has four people – two couples – who are going through the RCIA process.
We offer Advent and Lenten retreats for the Chinese community. There are also a few Bible study groups that meet weekly in the homes of our community members; every two or three months, I try to visit each group.
About 130 people attend our annual Thanksgiving/Christmas party in December, and similar numbers turn out for our annual celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Why is the Chinese Lunar New Year, which will take place this year on Saturday, Feb. 10, so special?
The Lunar New Year is an important time for families. In China, we celebrate it over a 15-day period, and families come together during that time. Those who have been working in other provinces and cities will come back home for reunion with parents and grandparents. Together, they share their lives, joys and experiences; share their challenges and changes; clean up their house and wear new clothes. Children receive gifts and red envelopes from elders.
What advice do you have for people of all ethnicities on how they can use the occasion of a new year to grow closer to God?
In China, when I was a child, everyone would attend Mass on the evening before the Chinese Lunar New Year, thanking God for all the blessings of the year that was ending. The next day, on the first day of the Lunar New Year, they would attend Mass again, this time with their petitions for the new year. They would ask God for His grace and protection, that their families would enjoy peace and health.