By ANNE NEUFELD RUTZ, Special to the Bulletin | Published December 6, 2013
NORCROSS—The first Sunday of Advent took on a special meaning for the members of the newest parish in the archdiocese, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross.
After 17 years as a mission, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs officially became a parish in mid-October and celebrated the elevation at a Mass of thanksgiving on Dec. 1. It joins Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale as the second Vietnamese parish in the archdiocese.
As Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory reminded the congregation in his homily at the Mass, “Advent is a season of joyful waiting, and today this community rejoices because at least one aspect of its waiting has now ceased.”
Recalling the long effort to reach parish status, An Dinh, the chairman of the pastoral council, thanked “all the individuals who have built it up to what we are today.”
Father Francis Tuan Tran, formerly mission administrator, was installed by the archbishop as the first pastor. Archbishop Gregory prayed for him, saying “God our Father, pour down your blessings on this your priest, Francis Tuan Tran. May he be a good pastor in the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the archbishop warmly embraced Father Tran. Following the Mass, Father Tran smiled proudly as he greeted his flock.
“It started with a dream,” he told them. “The Vietnamese Catholic community dreamed to establish a church.” He then thanked the parishioners for “your support and your love.”
Archbishop Gregory also praised the “pioneer families who have been engaged with this community throughout its entire history.”
One happy pioneer at the celebration Mass was Sister Christine Truong. During the early 1990s, she helped bring northern Georgia’s widely dispersed Vietnamese community living in the Buford Highway corridor and elsewhere together for monthly Masses. Sister Christine, a Sister of the Good Shepherd, recalled how she used to go to many Catholic churches on Sundays, visiting “as many as five Masses” where she would scan the crowds for “Asian faces.” She would then greet people in Vietnamese and invite them to join together for Mass in their native language.
She provided transportation for those in need, sometimes making “four round-trips” to get everyone to the Vietnamese Mass.
Sister Christine added that those Vietnamese-language Masses, celebrated once a month, became so popular they were “packed” every time. Such enthusiastic attendance eventually led to the establishment around 1996 of an official mission for Vietnamese Catholics at Holy Cross Church in northeast Atlanta. During the years as a mission, Father Tran said, the Vietnamese community patiently worked on fundraising and planning, outreach and education. Father Tran noted that to earn parish status, the community had to demonstrate “stability of finance, stability of clergy, and stability of members.”
“Now we have 1,270 families and 970 teens and children in catechism,” he said.
The church community moved in 2006 to Norcross, just off Beaver Ruin Road near Interstate 85, on Timmers Road. From 2009 to 2010, the church members waged an ultimately successful battle to stop Gwinnett County commissioners from placing a waste transfer station next door. With the support of the archdiocese, the church acquired the land.
On Sunday, besides the standing-room-only crowd in the main church sanctuary, which seats 700, the Mass attracted another 1,200 worshipers who sat in the two social halls.
Among the congregants enjoying the gathering was Phillip Tran, who, along with his wife and nine children, arrived almost an hour early, to be sure of good seats in the main sanctuary. Tran, who has served as a catechist, a member of the finance committee, and a member of the pastoral council, reflected proudly on the “tremendous amount of growth, especially with youngsters. We’ve grown from a few hundred members to thousands.”
He also explained why his family elects to drive 25 minutes from Alpharetta to the new parish.
“God is everywhere, and faith is most important. But culture is second,” he said. “On weekdays, I go to St. Brigid, but on weekends, we want our kids to grow in faith and to grow in this community. We would like our kids to help out with the Vietnamese community.”
Father Tran said many parishioners drive a considerable distance—the average is half an hour—to be part of the Vietnamese congregation. He mentioned one very active family “who comes every Sunday from Helen.” The church hosts a fall festival which brings tens of thousands to the church campus for Vietnamese food and cultural events.
Kim Huong Vu, who served for eight years as director of religious education and now coordinates the confirmation classes, said, “We’ve had a lot of graces from God for our parish.” She pointed out that in the years she has been active with the parish, youth religious education participation has increased almost tenfold. Besides the usual catechism and sacrament preparation classes, she noted that the parish offers Saturday classes in “Vietnamese as a Second Language,” so American-born children can learn the language of their heritage.
She drives regularly from Smyrna to the parish and says the travel is definitely worth it.
“It’s very important to me. This is my community. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s a really good environment for me, for my kids. This is our culture, our heritage,” she said.
One teenage parishioner, Jamie Pham, a senior at Peachtree Ridge High School, told of her enjoyment in participating in the Eucharistic Youth Movement, the parish teen program. She compared it to Scouting, as it includes a strong emphasis on volunteering, fun activities, and establishing a close-knit community. She said she plans to come home on weekends next year when she’s in college so she can maintain her close ties with the parish and its youth group.
The closeness of the Vietnamese community was mentioned by several others at the Mass. The former pastoral council chairman, Philip Tran of Johns Creek, (no relation to Phillip Tran), said, “This day celebrates the Vietnamese willingness to have their own church. We are mature. I think we can do it as a Catholic parish, with strong finances, strong organization and a strong pastor, with our language and traditions and Vietnamese Catholic spirit.”
As C.C. Nguyen, the vice-chairman of the pastoral council commented, “We are grateful that Archbishop Wilton Gregory has come to celebrate Mass and to elevate our mission to become a parish. We will always remain faithful and do our very best to become a model parish.”
In his concluding remarks to the new parish, Archbishop Gregory said, “I pray you will always be a place of harmony and friendship. May it be a place where your deep Catholic faith and proud Vietnamese heritage will be passed on to future generations.”
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church is located at 4545-A Timmers Way, Norcross, GA 30093. Contact: 770-921-0077 or www.cttdvnatl.com.