Editor’s Note: Last month, Bishop Kevin Vann, along with Fathers Binh Nguyen and Francis Vu, S.J., traveled to Vietnam for the Tet Lunar New Year celebrations and the first days of Lent. “We hope and pray,” Bishop Vann wrote at departure time, “that this visit will continue to strengthen the bonds of faith, family and friendship between our diocese and the people of Vietnam.”
During the trip, Bishop Vann kept up an email correspondence with the diocesan staff, accompanied by several photographs he shot at various destinations in Vietnam.
Some of them are reproduced in this layout, along with Bishop Vann’s correspondence:
“I was mentioning to Father Francis Vu that at a certain time in my life (and this is certainly dating myself!) the word “Vietnam” brought with it connotations of the draft, political unrest, the war and the entire sense that there was a world out there that I knew little about. For better or worse, that is the result of growing up in the 1960’s. The early part of the decade certainly has better memories than the latter for me. It was only when I was in the seminary and met the community of “The Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix” that I began to have a glimmer of insight into the people of Vietnam and the price they had to pay for their faith and fidelity. (Providentially, we visited their general headquarters yesterday and the current Superior General, Father Pius, and I were in the seminary together in St. Louis!) I have friends in the CMC community to this day.
“My knowledge and understanding of the Vietnamese people and their faith and challenges certainly took a giant step forward when I was assigned to Fort Worth with their big Vietnamese population and our four parishes. The parishes were all staffed by the Co-Redemptrix community and we built what I believe is the largest Vietnamese Catholic Church in the US… seating about 2,500 folks. It was there I learned about Tet, family customs, the challenge of living their faith and customs in a secular culture, and to try to understand and pray and live through an “Eastern lens” [that ensures] that memories of suffering and struggle do not easily fade. It also helped me to be grateful to the Lord for what I have and to take less for granted.
“Being here now in Vietnam itself gives me an even wider and human context for those experiences. That is what I recounted to the folks at Tan Phu Church yesterday morning (about 7,000 people present) and last night at Tan Dinh Church with the archbishop. (He and I spoke principally in Italian, as he also studied in Rome.) Fathers Francis and Binh have helped me with more liturgical Vietnamese, so I have been able to use that, and can read along from the Vietnamese Roman Missal.”
“As we are preparing to fly to Hanoi this afternoon, I am reflecting on this week here in Saigon: the Masses, New Year celebrations and the people that I have met and visited with. An unexpected blessing has been all of the priests that are able to speak Italian, from their days of study in Rome: Archbishop Paul of Saigon, Brother Philip of the Cistercians, and Father Peter, who is on the staff of the Bishops’ Conference here. The gift of the Italian language, which we all learned in our student days in the Eternal City, continues to be a blessing, and a help to our communication, and a reminder of the Universal Church.
“Another personal blessing of these days has been the chance to visit with Father Pius, CMC. He is the Superior of the CMC fathers, and he and I were in theology at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1970’s.
“Yesterday, Friday, also was a day of more personal connections. We visited Vung Tau, and the beautiful statue of Our Lady and a beautiful church, all on the side of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This is the home of Father Bill Cao. As we had lunch with Father Binh’s family on New Year’s Day at Chu Hai, I couldn’t help but think of our family when I was young when we gathered at my grandparents, Les and Mary Jones. The cultural setting of the two is certainly different, but the love and care of the family, molded by our Catholic faith, is certainly the same.
“The celebration of Mass in the cemetery at Chu Hai was the same type of celebration that we have in the U.S. for Memorial Day, in Italy for All Souls Day and in Mexico for the “Día de los Muertos.” Again, different cultural expressions, to be sure, but a common unity in the communion of the saints, praying for the deceased and gratitude for the lives of our parents and grandparents who gave us life and brought us to receive the gift of faith through the sacrament of baptism.”