By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 18, 2009
While enriching the Archdiocese of Atlanta with their vital faith, Vietnamese Catholics are blessed in return when they take part in the annual Eucharistic Congress, a Vietnamese deacon said.
“The Vietnamese community is active within their parish. In this environment, they can see the big picture outside their boundaries. In my opinion this is a very good thing. They can see thousands and thousands in the diocese worshiping God. Especially for the children, that is very powerful,” said Deacon Peter Huynh of Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale.
“Most are blue collar. They cannot travel to Rome to see the universal church. This is the universal church for them,” he said, as a colorful, talkative mixture of thousands of people passed by along the main passageway through the Georgia International Convention Center June 13.
“I think if we spend a lot of money for this, it was worth it.”
An estimated 30,000 Catholics were a part of the congress at events that day or the night before.
Like other distinctive tracks for Hispanics, teens and children, the Vietnamese language track was filled to capacity. Children and youth, most wearing the colorful scarves that are the emblem of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, respectfully sat on the floor so adults could find chairs.
Two scheduled speakers from Vietnam, a bishop and a priest, were not able to come, one for health reasons, the other denied papers to travel by the Vietnamese government.
Instead, Father Joachim Nguyen Duc Viet-Chau from New Orleans spoke on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and Father Dominic Dinh Minh Hai, a Redemptorist priest from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, addressed living a Eucharistic spirituality in daily life. Eucharistic miracles in church history were also part of the program.
At midday, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory dropped in to greet this portion of his diverse North Georgia flock and was cheered when he spoke briefly in Vietnamese.
“What a joy it is for me to visit with the wonderful Vietnamese community here in Atlanta,” he continued in English. “You don’t know how much joy and how much life you bring” to the church of North Georgia.
“I thank you for the wonderful faith that you bring as part of your heritage. You remind us that the Mother of God has claimed all of us as her children and that she loves us dearly.”
He said that he looks forward to ordaining a new Vietnamese priest, as he ordains eight men for the priesthood in June, among them Rev. Mr. Dominic Tho Tran, “my youngest brother soon to be our priest.”
He also greeted Vietnamese sisters and thanked them for their service in the parishes and community. He told members of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross that he “has not forgotten the struggle we share” as the church continues a legal battle to prevent a garbage transfer station from being built next door to its sanctuary.
“I stand with you in that struggle,” he said, to applause.
“Wherever the Vietnamese community gathers, it gathers with joy and I leave a part of my heart with you,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Blessing each row, the archbishop went down the aisle. Just before leaving, he leaned down and bumped fists with 10-year-old Thomas Duong, seated by the door.
In addition to the two Vietnamese churches, guided by Msgr. Francis Pham Van Phuong and Father Francis Tuan Tran, Catholics from Vietnam are an important part of many other parishes, the archbishop said.
Deacon Huynh is the director of religious education at Our Lady of Vietnam Church. He makes attending the Eucharistic Congress a requirement for youth preparing for first Communion and Confirmation, believing it enhances their study and their faith. In addition to the Vietnamese Track, they take part in the Kid Track and Teen Track with their peers and are a part of the morning and evening processions.
“This morning we had 34 or 35 first communicants in the procession,” Deacon Huynh said. “I think that is good for them,” he said. “I want them to see Catholicism outside their world, their parish.”
He credits Archbishop Gregory for his leadership in making the congress an annual faith event, despite the difficulties and challenges.
“Continue to pray for our bishop to allow this to happen,” he said. “It costs a lot, but in the long run I think it helps all of us. I think it is good for stewardship.”
Lisa Bi, 15, and Michelle Tran, 16, both from Our Lady of Vietnam Church, were confirmed on May 31. Both went to the Teen Track and the Vietnamese Track.
“I feel like I’m growing a step closer to becoming a more mature Catholic,” Lisa said joyously.