GREENVILLE — The lack of Vietnamese-speaking priests in the diocese is making it hard for Vietnamese Catholics to fully participate in the American Catholic Church, according to Loc Phan, one of nearly 100 South Carolina Vietnamese Catholics who met earlier this month with Bishop Robert J. Baker to share their concerns about their faith.
Phan chaired one of four discussion groups which raised issues of family, youth, vocations and social concerns as each relates to the diocese’s growing Vietnamese Catholic community.
The daylong meeting was called by the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries. That office will use the information in helping the bishop prepare a pastoral letter outlining the diocese’s strategies for better serving the state’s Vietnamese Catholics.
The 2001 pastoral statement from the U.S. Catholic Bishops titled “Asian Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith” is being used by the diocese as a model for its program. It speaks to many of the problems and challenges facing Vietnamese families in the diocese including social, cultural and economic issues, and issues facing Vietnamese youth and communications.
“The language barrier is a major hurdle for us,” Bishop Baker said, who spoke to the group through Franciscan Father Dac Tran, vicar for Vietnamese Catholics for the diocese and parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville.
The bishop encouraged the Vietnamese Catholics to follow the Hispanic Catholic model that has been in place for several years in the diocese.
“Right in this room, probably there are vocations to the priesthood and religious life,” he said. “You have a deep faith, and we would love to have seminarians and religious sisters from the Vietnamese community.”
Nguyen Anh Nam, spokesman for the family discussion group, said economic concerns and the language gap are tearing that strong Vietnamese tradition apart.
He said parishes could help address that problem by offering English language courses for adults and Vietnamese language classes for the children who are losing their native language because of the focus on English in the public schools.
Father Steve Brovey, pastor at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors where many of the Upstate Vietnamese Catholics attend Mass, said his parish currently offers two English language courses weekly.
High school students Tuan Phan and Son Tran, parishioners at Prince of Peace, addressed the bishop on the cultural differences between Vietnam and this country, and the need for more youth activities centered on the Vietnamese community.
Bishop Baker encouraged the students to get more involved in diocesan youth activities, and he praised them for their commitment to maintaining the Vietnamese family.
“It’s beautiful because you’re talking about interacting with your parents,” Bishop Baker said, which is a tough challenge in today’s American culture.
The bishop praised Vietnamese Catholic parents for their efforts to keep that family tradition strong.
“You parents are working together. You don’t always find that in the American culture,” he said.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 4,248 Vietnamese Americans in South Carolina.
Though no firm numbers exist, Father Tran said there are probably around 1,000 Vietnamese Catholics in the state, most of those living in the Upstate. Prince of Peace Church has the largest group of registered Vietnamese Catholics.
Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, said committees of South Carolina Vietnamese Catholics will be formed from the meeting to put together recommendations and an action plan for the bishop.