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Updated: October 20, 2002 05:00 PM GMT
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Hmong parishioners in northern Vietnam were more involved than usual at Mass recently because they could follow that Mass marking their parish´s 100th anniversary in their own language.

Ethnic Hmong made up about half of some 3,000 Catholics at the centenary celebration on Oct. 1 at Sa Pa parish, 390 kilometers northwest of Ha Noi.

During the Mass, hymns were sung and Scripture was read in Hmong language, as well as in Vietnamese, by members of the parish and by Catholics from another parish.

Thanks to translations provided by Joseph Ma A Lu, the Sa Pa parish council vice chairman, Hmong Catholics said that they grasped more fully the meaning of the Mass and their parish´s history.

A Lu stood dressed in tribal attire next to the celebrant and translated into Hmong the priest´s greetings, a brief parish history, the penitential rite and homily. He also summarized the Scripture readings in Hmong. Father Jean Vu Tat, the pastor, also rendered some of the Mass in Hmong, with help from A Lu and other Church workers.

The predominantly Hmong parish in Lao Cai province has 2,500 Catholics. About 500 guests came from elsewhere in Hung Hoa diocese. Covering Lao Cai and eight other provinces, it is Vietnam´s largest diocese in terms of land.

Paul Lo Minh Thong, an elderly parishioner, told UCA News that many of Sa Pa´s Catholics usually pray the rosary at Mass because they cannot follow the Vietnamese language prayers and can only watch the celebrant´s gestures. A Lu agreed. He noted that no priests in the diocese speak Hmong, so the anniversary Mass was the first time in many years they could follow along.

Giang A Minh, a 20-year-old parishioner, later commented, "The accompanying translation into our language helped us follow closely the main parts of the Mass and the rich history of our parish." Though that was helpful, he said "many ethnic youths like me want priests who come here to provide pastoral care to speak our language, just as some French missioners did in the past."

Father Tat, in charge of Catholic communities in Lao Cai province, took the initiative to arrange Hmong translation for the anniversary celebration. He told the congregation that the last Hmong-speaking French missioner left the region in 1950, due to the Vietnamese war of resistance against the French. After that, Sa Pa parishioners had to travel as far as 200 kilometers away to attend Mass. The parish began offering Mass again only in 1991.

Father Tat, 58, explained that Sa Pa parish was founded in 1902 by Father Francois Marie Savina of the Paris Foreign Mission Society. He said that the missioner actually knew several tribal languages and Chinese, and that he also compiled dictionaries for several ethnic communities.

Father Joseph Nguyen Thai Ha, apostolic administrator of the diocese, in the homily commended the strong faith of local Catholics who "courageously stood trials and challenges" for decades. "The merciful Lord has responded to your strong faith and perseverance through trial and sometimes despair by giving his gifts of grace in this jubilee year" of the parish. The jubilee celebration, scheduled to last a full year, will end on May 1, 2003.

Joseph Dao Quang Dinh, a lay leader on the jubilee organizing committee, pointed out to UCA News that the Lao Cai provincial government allows Father Tat to visit Catholic communities in Lao Cai only occasionally. Despite such restricted travel, he said, Father Tat does take care of all Catholics and ensures that catechism classes are organized for children and adults.

Lao Cai, which borders China´s Yunnan province and is home to 16 different tribal groups, has 6,000 Catholics. Two new parishes in Bao Yen and Pho Lu will be set up after the diocese has a bishop, one Church source said.

Two-thirds of some 12 million Hmong in the world live in China, others in northern Vietnam, northern Laos, northern Thailand and northeast Burma. Some are also in Australia, Canada, France, the United States and other countries.


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