Among my recent interlibrary loan items is a hefty volume about the Diocese of Thái Bình in northern Vietnam. There isn’t a scale in my house, but I’d guess that it is four or five pounds like a college chemistry or ecology textbook. Published in conjunction with the eightieth anniversary of the creation of this diocese, this “yearbook” or “commemorative publication” (kỷ yếu) includes over 700 pages of glossy and thick papers and many photos of people and churches. It offers basic information on both past and present of the dioceses as well as individual parishes and missions. The information may be brief, but they add up to some fascinating insights.
A few days ago, I saw two or three friends from Seattle years posted on Facebook a tribute on Raymond Hunthausen, former archbishop of Seattle, on his death at 96 years old. (The writer is Fr. Michael Ryan, rector of the Cathedral parish and one of the spiritual chaplains of the L’Arche community that I belonged.) By a coincidence, the next morning I came across two items while looking at some old issues of a magazine by Vietnamese Catholic refugees, and one of them shows a photo of the late archbishop presiding over a mass among Vietnamese refugees in 1978.
It is always tricky writing about “the best” or “the most XYZ” song. But this year marks the centenary of the Marian apparitions in Fátima, and more Vietnamese Americans travelled to Portugal than any previous year. It made me think of the song Lời Mẹ Nhắn Nhủ [Words of Our Lady], better known by its informal title Năm Xưa Trên Cây Sồi [Years Ago on an Oak Tree]. I’m not very keen on awards, especially awards of recent productions. But I’m more open to retrospective awards. Were there an award for the category “the most devotional Marian song or hymn written in Vietnamese in the twentieth century,” I’d vote for this song.
The short answer: There were about 900 Catholic priests of Vietnamese origin in the U.S. by 2012. There are approximately 950 at this time (2017), and probably more.