By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 6, 2013
COLLEGE PARK—The Vietnamese Catholic community, whose elders with a booming drum always lead the massive Eucharistic procession into the Georgia International Convention Center, have a deep devotion to adoration that arises in part out of suffering, a speaker said.
Father Matthew Hy K. Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, said, “We grew up in war. It is hard to get together for Mass. You may not have a church because it was destroyed by bombs. You might not have a priest. It became the center of our spirituality during war.”
When a priest was able to come and celebrate Mass, he would leave a consecrated host for the community to worship, Father Nguyen said. At times a church was bombed, but the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament survived intact. He spoke in an interview before making two presentations in Vietnamese to this community of Catholics at the congress.
“I love to see the Eucharist Congress,” said the priest, who holds a doctorate in dogmatic theology and who teaches at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.
“It says a lot about our Catholic faith, our real, authentic Catholic faith centered on the Eucharist,” Father Nguyen said. As the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium stated, “it is the source and summit of our spirituality,” he said. The two elements of his talks on June 1, he said, were the Eucharist and mystery and that faith without works is dead.
“Mystery is something beyond human understanding,” Father Nguyen said. Many people try to explain the mystery of the Eucharist with scientific evidence and reduce it to something they can understand.
During the Year of Faith, he advised the people in the Vietnamese Catholic community to receive Communion more often; to witness and proclaim the mystery of the Eucharist to others; and to spend more time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
About 800 or more Vietnamese Catholics filled the large room in the Marriott Gateway hotel, adjacent to the Georgia International Convention Center, to hear talks by Father Nguyen and by Father Martino Thong Nguyen, a priest of the Savannah Diocese.
Walking animatedly up and down the center aisle, Father Martino provoked laughs of recognition, as he took the famous Scripture from 1 Corinthians about love and replaced the word “love” first with the name of Jesus and then with his own name, as in “Father Martino is patient, Father Martino is kind, Father Martino endures all things, Father Martino is not boastful.”
When “you put your name in it … it doesn’t make sense,” he said in an interview later. “We have not become one with Jesus. … For the litany of love to make sense in our lives we have to become one with Christ. There is no better way to become one with Christ than the Eucharist. But we have to eat and drink the cup worthily.”
Ordained in 2004, Father Martino began life in the United States as a refugee from Vietnam. Pastor of churches in Americus and Montezuma, Ga., he is also a chaplain for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society in America, which serves 20,000 members, and has been a keynote speaker at Marian Days in Carthage, Mo., the largest annual Vietnamese Catholic pilgrimage in North America.
The people in the Vietnamese track ranged from elders to infants cradled in their parents’ arms. Families with toddlers kept an eye on their roving youngsters and bounced babies as they listened to the speakers. Even teens were laughing as Father Martino urged them to go deeper in their Catholic faith. One point he made was that grandparents and parents need to explain to young Catholics why it’s important to practice the faith and not just tell them “it is family tradition.”
“Young people want an explanation of why do we go to church,” the 37-year-old priest said. “You cannot explain by ignoring. You have to explain to them why. I always give them three reasons, the historical fact, the political fact and the theological fact.”
In his parishes, “the first thing I put in is adoration and I, the pastor, am going to adoration,” Father Martino said.
Phillip Tran, of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross, came to the congress with his wife and seven daughters.
“I used to be a one-hour Catholic,” he said. “I discovered the Eucharist maybe eight years ago. … Now it is not that I have to go to Mass. I must go to Mass and I go every day.”
“That is my life,” he added. “Without the Eucharist I wouldn’t be here the way I am right now.”
A Cursillo weekend began his conversion and rediscovery of the Eucharist. Even seated at the congress surrounded by people focused on this miracle, he is inspired by the vision of an even greater faith in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. “If we Catholics truly believed it was Jesus, imagine how vibrant it could be,” he said.
David Nguyen, a paralegal and father of four children, from Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, said of the congress, “We come together to say thank you God for the Eucharist. That is the main thing.”
“Every year we meet each other, we review our life, we see what the next step is,” he said. “Anytime I come here I learn a lot from the priests.”
Seated in the hallway outside and feeding a bottle to her infant son, Nga Tran, of Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale, said she brought her family, including her two young daughters, 5 and 7, to the congress because “I want my children to know about faith, about God.”
A moving highlight was the introduction to the community of Bishop David P. Talley, Atlanta’s new auxiliary bishop. With the help of Msgr. Francis Pham Van Phuong, Bishop Talley told the community of a great friendship he had, beginning when he studied canon law in Rome, Italy, with Father Michael Nguyen, a priest of the New Orleans Archdiocese, who died very recently.
“Over the years Michael and I became best friends in Rome and he talked about what he had to go through, what his family had to go through to come to America on a boat. He gave up for a time his desire to be a priest so he could work and bring his family here,” Bishop Talley said. “After everybody was here, after everybody was fine, he went back to his studies and became a priest.”
“Because of your family, your faith, you make us a wealthier place,” he told the Vietnamese Catholic community. “Because you have not forgotten what it means to be a family, to take care of each other and to prosper together, and Atlanta is a richer place because you are here.”
“I rejoice in you,” Bishop Talley said. “I thank God for you and I ask God to let you all prosper all the days of your life, praising the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in your own language.”