GREEN BAY — Twenty-five years ago, Bao Kong had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land, but the timing was not right. She is not about to miss out a second time.
“In 1990, my kids were young so I could not afford to go,” she said. “I cried because I couldn’t go. This time, I said, ‘I’m going to make it.’ I want to go to Bethlehem to see where Jesus was born.”
The Hmong Catholic Community of the Diocese of Green Bay is planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for February of 2017. Fundraising efforts are underway, including the April 18 egg roll sale in the St. Jude Church basement. Egg roll sales are held regularly by the community in support of the Hmong Catholic Community. Proceeds from the last two sales were designated to support members from Green Bay and Appleton who will make the Holy Land trip. Approximately 40 pilgrims are currently committed to the tour.
“I have a priest who will go straight from Thailand to the Holy Land to meet us,” said Kong. “This will be his first time, so he is really happy about it.”
She has also invited two priests from the diocese who are considering the pilgrimage. Deacon Shuying “Joe” Vang of St. Bernard Parish, Appleton, who ministers to the Hmong Catholic Community, will be among the pilgrims.
“We are planning for 11 or 12 days,” said Kong. “Some people want to see Mount Sinai (in Egypt). It’s the first trip for most of the group.”
The community received a grant from the Hmong American Catholic Association to support the pilgrimage. Funds will also be raised through future egg roll sales. Pork and veggie egg rolls are sold for $13 per dozen. Community volunteers gathered in the St. Jude kitchen the evening prior to the recent sale to clean and chop vegetables. They returned early Saturday morning to wrap and cook the egg rolls prior to customer pickup. More than 300 dozen were sold.
Larly Kong, Bao’s eldest son, is a regular volunteer. He offers advice to egg roll consumers.
“I always tell people, the best time to eat an egg roll is right after we hand it to you,” he said. “That’s when it’s at its absolute best.”
While he helps in the kitchen, Larly’s main job is assisting the customers.
“My mom usually takes care of the seasoning and the mixing,” he said. “A few people will cook. We have ladies who usually do the wrapping. I can do the wrapping, but I’m not as quick as they are. I’m usually the one out there selling and talking to people. I enjoy that. We’ve had more than 600 dozen (at past sales).
Larly, 32, vividly recalls the moment the idea for the pilgrimage originated. He was driving family members, including his parents, to a cousin’s gathering.
“We were talking about church and (Bao) brought up the idea of our specific church making a trip to Jerusalem,” he explained. “My Pops … who was sitting shotgun, began to talk about how he didn’t think it was a good idea. After he was done talking, I said, ‘Mom, I think it’s a great idea. I will help you out with whatever you want. I would love to go to Jerusalem.’ I began contacting tour places.”
In addition to experiencing the Holy Land, the pilgrimage will provide a good opportunity to build relationships within the Hmong Catholic Community, added Larly.
“To be real, we don’t do enough of these types of experiences,” he said. “For example, I would like to see us go to a camp for a weekend where everything is natural. You have that strong connection with each other.
“It will be a good bonding experience between everybody,” he added about the pilgrimage. “I want that spiritual connection. I don’t think there is a particular site that I want to see more than another. It’s the discovery, the whole different cultural experience.”
Mass for the Hmong Catholic Community is celebrated on the first and third Sundays of the month at St. Jude Church. Hmong Mass is offered on the second and fourth Sundays at St. Bernard Church, Appleton. Fr. Bob Rhyner, a senior priest of the diocese, serves as the celebrant at the St. Jude liturgies.
“He speaks English and we respond in mostly Hmong and sing and read Hmong,” said Bao. “Deacon Joe helps us. He translates the homily.”
A retreat for Hmong Catholics is held each year. The community struggles at times, said Larly, but they pull together to support one another.
“There is imperfection,” he said. “We may have disagreements, but when we work together and do things like (the egg roll sale), it works.”
To receive information and order forms about upcoming egg roll sales or make donations, email baothe [email protected] or write (include an email address if possible) to St. Jude Parish, 1087 Kellogg St., Green Bay, WI 54303.