Updated: September 20, 2021 09:55 AM GMT
The beautiful church of Ly Son Parish on the scenic Ly Son island, lying off the south-central coast of Vietnam. (Photo supplied)
Many people think that only priests, religious brothers and sisters are missionaries sent out to spread the Good News to people everywhere. That, in my opinion, is true but not adequate.
It is true because consecrated persons are well trained and officially sent out to work directly in the mission field. That's why there are so many missionary congregations, missionary religious brothers and sisters.
However, it is not enough because this way of understanding mission does not mention or sometimes underestimates the role of the laity, especially immigrants, in carrying out Jesus' command of evangelization.
Furthermore, it even misguides people to think that only priests, religious men and women are the main actors in the proclamation of the Gospel.
I dare not call immigrants missionaries to avoid unnecessary arguments regarding this term. But I am sure that immigrants are always the pioneers who go out to spread the Kingdom of God, whether they realize it or not.
Why do I dare make such a statement? The reason is my own experience. I have observed that immigrants are always the first to set foot in a new land and build a community of faith. The priests and religious come later to perfect the community and give it a shape.
Without the early immigrants, I don't know if we could see such a big church today in the mountains of the northern border of Vietnam
In this article, I would like to list my own experiences of the communities that I have had the opportunity to visit, live with or hear about to prove my point.
First, I would like to invite you to visit Ha Giang, a province in northern Vietnam bordering China. Sacred Heart Parish, the only Catholic parish, was established on Sept. 8, 2014.
I have some relatives who migrated here from the early days of the new economic migration movement. They, along with some other Catholic migrants, gathered together to pray in their families.
At first, it may be due to habit, the need to unite with each other or even the feeling of compatriots or some other reasons.
Still, gradually they built up a community of faith, and when the time of God came, there were priests and religious brothers and sisters who came here to do "mission" and strengthen the community.
Without the early immigrants, I don't know if we could see such a big church today in the mountains of the northern border of Vietnam.
I also had the opportunity to visit Bac Kan Parish, located in Bac Kạn province in the northeast region, due north of capital Hanoi.
This province is a vast missionary area favorably assigned by Bac Ninh Diocese to the Redemptorist congregation to undertake evangelization. Indeed, our confreres work hard to evangelize among the indigenous people who have never heard of the Gospel.
But to fulfill that mission, Redemptorists need the help of Catholic immigrants who had come to live here long before the Redemptorists.
Catholic immigrants live far from their homeland but still remember God and the community wherever they arrive. Hence they gather together to rekindle and nurture the fires of faith in this mountainous province.
On another occasion, I visited a series of parishes in northwestern provinces near Hanoi. Similar patterns happen here. It is the migrants who pave the road, entering every corner of the mission field before priests and religious arrive.
Coming here, I heard stories more thrilling than fiction but as authentic about the beginning of the building of a community
The most impressive part of the trip was attending Mass at the underground church right in Muong La town. We called it "underground" literally because it's the floor below a parishioner's house.
Coming here, I heard stories more thrilling than fiction but as authentic about the beginning of the building of a community. Thank God, through the ups and downs and all the restrictions, Muong La Parish and many other young parishes in this area have been established.
These parishes are not as old as the veteran parishes in the Red River delta, but their vitality, religious life, and apostolic zeal are just as strong. Here, many young laity leaders are very full of apostolic enthusiasm, not afraid of hard work and are wholeheartedly building up the faith community.
During a summer pastoral trip, I was sent to Ly Son island, lying off the south-central coast of Vietnam. There is a beautiful church of Ly Son Parish on this island, which used to be a mission of Chau O Parish (a mission taken care of by the Redemptorist congregation). It developed and became an independent parish.
The history of the parish records:
— In 1959, Duong Minh Giang, a member of Catholic Action, pioneered the mission on Ly Son island.
— In 1961, the Catholic Action group of Ly Son consisted of Vo Xuan Tho, Pham Ne, Pham Nu, Bui Dai. The chapel was temporarily located at Bui Dai's house.
— In early 1963, the construction of the church started.
It was in 1965 that Father Thomas Pham Huu Thien, CSsR, was sent to take care of the parishioners on this island. Thanks to the pioneering steps of the laity, today there is a parish amid the ocean.
The motif of the expansion of the Kingdom of God in the northern mountainous region of Vietnam and on Ly Son island is also the motif of the overseas Vietnamese communities.
The community wonders how to keep the fire of faith and spread that apostolic flame, first of all, to their own children in a foreign land
I live at the moment in Melbourne city in Australia. Through sharing with Vietnamese Catholics here, I feel more convinced that immigrants are the driving force laying the cornerstones to build up the Vietnamese Catholic community in Victoria.
I am not denying the efforts of the first Vietnamese priests here, but we must also appreciate the outstanding contributions of the first generations of Vietnamese immigrants who have stood side by side, accompanied and effectively assisted the priests.
After more than three decades, the community has become firm with 13 sub-communities. A Vietnamese Catholic center with a new church dedicated to St. Mother La Vang was inaugurated on Feb. 22, 2020.
Early this year, I visited a new sub-community that is more than a three-hour drive from Melbourne. This is the latest community, still in the early stages of gathering. They have been newcomers to Australia in recent years through labor export.
The community wonders how to keep the fire of faith and spread that apostolic flame, first of all, to their own children in a foreign land. I am sure these Vietnamese immigrants will soon build up a strong community of faith.
The above are my own experiences, and the more I think about the role and mission of the laity, especially the immigrants, the more convinced I am of their vocation to pave the way of evangelization.
I wonder if the Church has given enough attention to the laity. Asking that question may upset some, but we need to work harder to promote the immigrants.
Once again, immigrants, not priests or nuns, are the pioneers to carry out Jesus' command: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to every creature" (Mk 16:15).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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