The Vietnamese Catholic ethnic press reported widely on this congress but there is hardly anything in English. I am appreciative of Fr. Linh Hoang, OFM (Siena College), who attended the event and filed the write-up below along with the photos.
The Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in the United States of America and the Diocese of Orange County in southern California hosted the 2019 Hành Trình (Journey) Emmaus VIII for Vietnamese Catholic priests. The event took place during the week of October 14-17 at the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana with a special mass at the newly renovated Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove. This biennial gathering was a retreat punctuated with special events and social gatherings. There were over 250 priests who came from dioceses across the U.S. as well as Vietnam. They represented both diocesan and religious priests who work in parishes, schools, and other ministries.
The theme of the retreat was taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:1, “Love your fellow Christians always.” The journey’s theme provided an opportunity for the men to share experiences, especially the joys and struggles that comes from living a gospel-filled life in ministry. They discussed how ministry is fulfilling, especially when there are others to share in it. That is, among priests as well as lay people. Even though some priests are in dioceses where there are only a few Vietnamese priests, they make an effort to gather regionally with others from the Federation. These regional gatherings provide camaraderie and maintain connection with the wider Federation.
The priest-participants at this retreat ranged from those in their 90s to recently ordained men in their mid-20s. The generational difference was apparent as the men shared their experiences about their ministry, work, and life in the United States. Those newly ordained were interested in learning from the elders as well as providing insight into the changing parish structure and the younger generations. The older priests reminisced about their own struggles but emphasized the continual blessings they feel in their priestly life.
Besides the sharing among the priests, the schedule included talks by several Bishops including a special presentation by the Papal Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre. He praised the presence and dedication of the Vietnamese Catholics in the U.S. and around the world. He admired the strength of the Vietnamese but challenged the community about the future, especially as they are also being influenced by a secular American society that is as he sees it, eroding religious and family values. His talk was well received, especially his emphasis on passing on the faith to the next generation. The priest-participants agreed that this task is and will be an ongoing struggle.
Bishop Oscar Solis (Diocese of Salt Lake City) was also invited to share his experience as well as his work at the USCCB committee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs. Bishop Solis’ work on this committee produced the current pastoral response Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters. This document has been distributed widely across the dioceses. It recognizes but also support the efforts of the different Asian and Pacific Island Catholic communities in the U,S. He emphasized how important it is for the communities to work together in order to build up the vibrant faith life in the U.S. [Editorial note: the Philippine-born Solis is the first Filipino American to have become bishop, one year after the late Vietnam-born Dominic Mai Thanh Lương became the first Vietnamese American bishop.]
Next, the Diocese of Orange’s auxiliary bishop Peter Thanh Thai Nguyen [Nguyễn Thái Thành] shared his life as a priest working mainly among white Catholics and finding it a surprise to be named as a bishop to the largest Vietnamese dioceses in the U.S. He has embraced the challenge and thoroughly enjoy his new ministry. He was embolden by the vitality and dedication among the men gathered. He was followed by Bishop Kevin Vann, the current bishop of Orange County, who presided at the mass at Christ Cathedral. In his homily, Bishop Vann share about his life and ministry and the joy of working within such a diverse diocese.
On the last evening, the priests were guests as at a local restaurant. They became part of the entertainment as many priests took to the stage to sing songs about vocation, priestly life, and ministry. These vocation-theme songs were well received and became the highlight of the evening social gathering with the local community. The following morning was the final gathering as the newly elected president of the Federation, Fr. Chau Thanh Nguyen [Nguyễn Thanh Châu], bid farewell to all the priests until the next gathering. The next gathering is still in planning stages but many agreed to meet again on their next Emmaus journey retreat.