By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Vietnamese community can reach out as missionaries for the faith by raising their voices for justice and peace and cooperating with the diocese to spread the Gospel message, especially to help the poor, said a speaker at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress.
Father Matthew Hy Khac Nguyen said the community has a unique perspective to share since many came to this country as refugees and depended on the hospitality of Americans. “Vietnamese not only understand but experienced that we are counted among the least,” said the priest.
He was one of the congress keynote speakers to the Vietnamese community that filled four rooms at the Marriott Gateway Hotel on Saturday, June 9.
Father Nguyen is a member of the Society of St. Sulpice. He is a professor of dogmatic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, Md.
The other speaker for the daylong event in the Vietnamese track was Father Peter Vong Van Mai, a priest from the Diocese of Phat Diem, who has studied in the United States since 2006 and received a doctorate in ministry from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.
On the Eucharist, Father Mai said Catholics in his country are very devoted to adoration and often travel far to attend worship services. The community believes strongly that prayer with the Eucharist helps people overcome troubles and hard times, he said.
A well-known example for the Vietnamese is the life of the late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who was imprisoned for 13 years, nine years spent in solitary confinement, said Father Mai.
Cardinal Thuan wrote a book about his time, “The Road of Hope,” which was written with messages he wrote on bits of paper smuggled out of prison.
“It is the Eucharist that encouraged him to overcome,” he said. The Eucharist was the “center of his life,” he said.
Building on the twin themes of the conference, missionary works and “We Though Many Are One Body in Christ,” Father Nguyen said the idea of serving as missionaries is new for the community.
Talking about the congress theme, Father Nguyen said the community, while small in number, feels included in the larger Catholic community.
Vietnamese Catholics “contribute to the living faith of the local church by our cultural and religious values and traditions. It also means that we are not abandoned in the new land, but we have been welcomed and embraced by the universal church and by the local church,” he said.
At the same time, Vietnamese people work well within their own community, but “the fear of being forcefully assimilated into the mainstream of American society” cautions some in working with other ethnic groups. Young people appear to be ready to bridge the cultural and ethnic gaps, he said.
He said the family in Vietnamese culture holds pride of place and is the “backbone of its society.” The importance is noted in the Vietnamese expression, “I belong, there I am,” he said. Religion plays a significant role in life in the theistic Vietnamese culture, which is reflected in daily living. With a respect for education and a hard-working ethic, young Vietnamese have achieved social success that brings honor and pride to families, he said.
Vietnam has a Catholic community through church mission work. He said, “Vietnamese people are known as people of memory. We don’t forget those who have helped us.”
Catholics in the Vietnamese community have benefited from the work of Portuguese, Spanish and French missionaries who brought the faith. Catholics make up close to seven percent of the population in Vietnam.
“Today, we need to continue their wonderful work by spreading our faith to others whom we encounter,” he said. But to be missionaries themselves is a new concept for Vietnamese Catholics, who have a strong faith, but lack awareness of missionary works, he said.
He offered three ways for the community to engage in the missionary work of the church: politically, they should raise their voice for justice and peace; socially, they should bring the Gospel to people, especially to help the poor in the area; and privately, families should encourage young people to pursue priesthood and religious vocations. With more vocations, more missionary works can be achieved, he said.