By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 10, 2010
Like the Catholic faith, some things transcend a particular culture. When the crowd in International Salons A&B at the Georgia International Convention Center erupted in a Vietnamese and English rendition of the childhood favorite, “The More We Get Together,” not a face was without a smile, including that of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Through the words of Msgr. Francis Pham Van Phuong, pastor of Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale and Vicar for Clergy, the Vietnamese community expressed its appreciation to the archbishop for his leadership and for continuing to hold the Eucharistic Congress annually.
“I know that it is very difficult in many ways,” Msgr. Pham Van Phuong said, and added that the Vietnamese community “loves what it receives” from the event.
In turn, the archbishop recognized the “deep faith” of the Vietnamese community and his appreciation and joy in being present with them.
“There are challenges to holding the Eucharistic Congress each year, but the Vietnamese community makes it easier because you keep coming back in greater and greater numbers,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Archbishop Gregory also thanked the community for supplying vocations.
“Each year we seem to be able to ordain a new Vietnamese priest and they serve throughout the entire archdiocese, serving all the people of God—loving and caring for all God’s people here in North Georgia.”
Once the archbishop departed, Vietnamese youth rose from the crowd to attend the Teen Track. Their presence in both tracks, with their families as well as with their peers, was indicative of the balance struck between honoring their Vietnamese culture and the wider American church.
Father Peter Duc Vu, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Vietnam Church, was affectionately greeted by adolescents on their way to the Teen Track. He explained the need to develop both relationships.
“We have a lot of activities (in the Vietnamese community), but they are involved in youth groups and in ways to practice their faith in the American church. One day they may be transferred to another parish … and need to know how to be part of that congregation. We are aware of that. They need to know how to practice their faith but also how to keep their culture.”
Thao Nguyen is a parishioner at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross and has worked with youth and recognizes their need to participate in the wider Catholic community.
“Now most of the kids are born here and it’s natural for them to be a part of the American community,” he said. “The main thing is … knowing people have the same faith as you and to celebrate the Eucharist together, which helps make your faith stronger no matter what culture you have.”
There remains a tight Vietnamese Catholic community in North Georgia. Their faith was inspired in their homeland by martyred priests many years ago.
“Today when people get to know about us … when they go to church they see how we love each other and how we still keep our faith strong,” Father Vu said.
Twenty people participated in the RCIA program this year and joined the church.
Father Vu, who was ordained in Vietnam, sees maintaining a strong family life as one of the most pressing challenges of the Vietnamese community.
“When they come over here they have to work hard—both parents. … They may not see their children much because they are working the whole day. It’s very hard for them and we must be sensitive to their needs,” he said.
He advises parents to make sure that they attend Mass each week with their families, which “anchors” them.
Participating in events like the Eucharistic Congress also feeds their faith. This year Bishop Peter Tran Dinh Tu spoke at the Vietnamese Track, offering insights on the Eucharist. To end the session he participated in a question and answer period that extended up until Mass began. Questions ranged from whether or not Judas was in heaven to what role should those gathered play in evangelization.
Young adult Son Ho recalls previous congresses when the Vietnamese community crammed into a smaller room. Now they have expanded into a larger area.
“It’s interesting to see the multicultural Catholic groups that come from the greater Atlanta area,” he said. “I like the different ethnic groups … but there’s one faith that’s like a bond between all the different groups.”