By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 7, 2017
NORCROSS—A large granite slab blasted with dynamite from the property of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church is to serve as a cornerstone of a new Asian-influenced church for this Gwinnett County faith community.
Blessed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on Aug. 27, the huge stone and ceremonial groundbreaking marked another step toward the long-sought goal of the new church.
Parish council president Danh Nguyen said, “It is the dream for each one of us. This dream we have longed for for many years has come true.”
Plans for the church knit the cultures of East and West. The many roofs feature sweeping overhanging eaves. With a nod toward Asian philosophy, the planners incorporated symmetry into the building: three doors, three tiers of the building and three exterior colors.
“We are faithful,” said Father Francis Tuan Tran, the pastor of the community, which has 1,600 registered families.
The goal as a church is to “practice our faith in our culture, in our mother tongue,” said Father Tran, 58.
He escaped from Vietnam in 1987, fleeing first by land to Cambodia and then by boat to Thailand.
Said Father Tran, the Asian community understands the number three to be favorable.
“Everything must be in balance, with three main elements: God, humans and earth,” he said.
At the same time, the building’s three levels represent the passing on of faith from grandparents to parents and to children, he said. There are three gateways leading into the church.
The building interior will have a traditional design, with the altar at one end and the seating in the shape of a cross. The baptismal font will be placed at the entry, and there will be seating for some 1,200 people, making it one of largest churches in the archdiocese. Leaders are still considering how to incorporate the large number of relics of the Vietnamese martyrs they have into the church design.
The parish name recalls the martyrdom of 117 Vietnamese Catholic and European missionaries killed for their faith in Vietnam during the 18th and 19th centuries. St. Pope John Paul II canonized the group in 1988.
Catholic faith, Vietnamese culture celebrated
The parish gathered outdoors for Mass on Sunday, Aug. 27, facing an oversized backdrop of the future church.
Six weekend Masses became just one for the ceremony, held under large white tents with seating for 3,500 people. A spray-painted green line on the parking lot blacktop marked the spot of the future church’s front doors.
The bilingual Mass included traditional Vietnamese drummers, scores of members of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement in colored neckerchiefs, along with eight priests concelebrating with the archbishop. A choir of women and men dressed in red and white robes sang hymns in Vietnamese.
Archbishop Gregory said his heart was filled with joy at the celebration with the community. It is a proud moment in the history of the parish, as it continues to flourish, he said.
The event provides an “opportunity for worship, for praise, for recognition of workers, for godly guidance and for renewed commitment to the Lord,” said a proclamation he signed for the occasion.
In his homily, he reminded the community how it is easy to profess Jesus as Lord, but another matter for believers to live that faith.
“Jesus is the very center of our life of faith,” he said. But like Peter in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Christians can turn quickly from accepting faith one moment to then denying it, he said.
“We, in truth, are the disciples to whom Matthew is writing,” he said.
The apostles lived with and listened to Jesus and faced that question asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” But members of the faith need to answer that same question today, said the archbishop.
“We are all challenged to respond from the heart, the depth of our own hearts,” he said. Indeed, the lives of believers “must bear witness to the still essential question,” he said.
Later, the archbishop, with Father Tran and surrounded by parish leaders, tossed a shovelful of dirt in a ceremonial groundbreaking. Gwinnett County Commissioner Lynette Howard joined other civic leaders at the event.
The project is estimated at $14.5 million. Sizemore Group is the lead architect for the new church.
Importance for future generations
In 2006, the community, which had been meeting at Holy Cross Church in Atlanta, moved the mission to a former car dealership at 4545-A Timmers Way, Norcross. A large garage used for repairing cars became the sanctuary to serve 700 people. Today, there are six Masses celebrated on Saturday and Sunday.
The community in 2009 was caught up in a disputed plan to convert a neighboring plot of land into a trash transfer station. The parish later bought the land. It is to be used now for parking and a pavilion, recreation area, and a place for retreats.
In addition to the church, the building plans expand the religious education and Vietnamese language school.
That’s important for a community that values both living in the United States and also holding onto their culture. There are more than 1,000 young people involved in the religious education program, with about 500 enrolled in language and culture classes. A three-day Vietnamese fall festival, held at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church each year over the Labor Day weekend, brings together tens of thousands of people.
Duc Nguyen, a parishioner since 1996, said, “This has been a long journey. With God’s will, we are here today.”
Nguyen, who works as a computer engineer, also teaches in the religious education and language programs. Planners listened to young people, who asked them to add more grassy places to play and gather on the campus, he said.
Parents and grandparents can come to the church facilities for faith and cultural reasons, and the goal is for young people to grow up there and be prepared for what the future holds, he said.
Ksoe Nguyen, a member for several years, said his family drives an hour to attend Mass there and gather with other Vietnamese people. His child was baptized there, and the nail salon worker said he wants her to grow in faith at the parish and also to learn about and attend cultural events there.