Eleven men and women who had "been longing and thirsting for their own faith" for years in refugee camps overseas were Confirmed recently at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.
The recently resettled Karen refugees, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, received the sacrament of Confirmation at a ceremony in the cathedral’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
Those confirmed were among 200 Karen people who came to the greater Hartford area from refugee camps located on the border between Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma). Some had lived in refugee camps for 10 to 20 years, said Judith Gough, director of Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services.
"Most of the Karen Catholic refugees were not able to be practicing Catholics in Thailand," said Father Daniel Akho, also from Myanmar, who ministers to the Karen people in the Hartford area.
"They would see a priest once or twice a month in their refugee camp. But many of them did not lose their faith, even though they were continuously being sought after by other denominations; they stood firm in their faith. When they arrived in the United States, they found themselves still being invited by other religions to join them in exchange for their daily necessities," he said.
"The Karen Catholics are only longing and thirsting for their own faith and have remained steadfast and strengthened in that faith," said Father Akho who delivered the homily in the native language of the confirmandi.
In his homily, Father Akho reminded those present that confirmation is the sacrament that seals our faith and make us soldiers of Christ. By the Holy Spirit, we are sealed, he said.
Father Akho reminded the congregation that after confirmation, we are responsible to witness to Christ and to protect our Catholic Church, our faith, and ourselves. Confirmation gives us the right to receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, right judgment, courage, prudence and divine presence, he said.
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, the main celebrant, said, "It is a happy day for the Church universal and for the Archdiocese of Hartford."
Father Akho and Msgr. John McCarthy, chancellor, concelebrated. Members of the Karen Catholic community served as lectors and altar servers. The Karen people prayed and sang in their native language.
The greater Hartford area has more resettled Karen people than any other region of the United States and their Catholic faith is strong, said Ms. Gough.
Father Akho studied for two years in Rome before coming to the Archdiocese of Hartford, where he serves as chaplain to the Karen people.
The Karen, a persecuted ethnic minority in what was then called Burma, fled to Thailand. Unable to enter Thailand, the refugees were settled in nine camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border.
In 1989, the ruling party adopted the name Union of Myanmar. The controversial name change, while accepted in the United Nations and in many countries, is not recognized by the Karen people and other opposition groups. The Karen people refer to their native country as Burma because it is difficult for them to accept Myanmar, the name adopted by the political party that was responsible for their persecution.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper from the Diocese of Hartford, Conn.