Vietnamese youth group hopes to build its social and spiritual life

GREENVILLE — A group of Upstate Vietnamese youth have joined a national Eucharistic Youth Society to aid the Catholic Church in building both the social and spiritual life of young Vietnamese and, at the same time, save a threatened culture.

Son Tran, with guidance from his godfather, Nam Nguyen, formed the Upstate Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society USA in April of 2002.

That initial group of five Vietnamese, including Tran and Nguyen — who first learned about the program 18 months ago in Atlanta — has grown to more than 40 members meeting weekly at Our Lady of the Rosary Church.

Franciscan Father Dac Tran of Our Lady of the Rosary is chaplain for the group, which is divided by age. Currently there are around 20 Vietnamese children in the 7-10 age group, another 20 in the 11- to 16-year-old group, and the rest in the 17-and-older group.

Members of that oldest group, including Tran, are trained as coordinator-leaders for the program.

With Father Tran’s guidance, the coordinator-leaders move the youth through three stages: seedling, search and companion. Each stage promotes the prayers of the Holy Father; devotion to the Eucharist; honoring Mary as a model of discipleship; and support of the missionary efforts of the church through prayer, sacraments, service and sacrifice.

Son Tran said he was first introduced to the program while living with his family in Vietnam.

“It was more of a Bible school class,” he said.

Though the primary purpose of the society is to teach Vietnamese youth to be virtuous people and responsible Christians in today’s increasingly secular society, the Greenville group is also keenly aware of its heritage and the role it must play in preserving it.

“We like to learn about God and have fun, but we also try to get the kids to remember they’re Vietnamese families,” Tran said.

A number of Vietnamese children came to the Upstate from Vietnam at a young age, Tran said, and they either have forgotten many of the customs of their native country or missed out on them altogether.

“They grew up here, and many don’t even know the Vietnamese language,” he said.

Tran and other coordinators are organizing a Vietnamese language class for the younger, English-speaking children of Upstate Vietnamese families.

Tran and five members of his family came to Greenville from Vietnam in November 1995. His family left their native country at that time to live with his mother’s uncle, who was already living in the Greenville area.

Tran said one brother, one sister and his father’s mother still live in Vietnam. Tran’s two grandfathers died during the Vietnam War.

Now 19, Tran graduated last year from Wade Hampton High School in Greenville. He’s a student at Green-ville Technical College, studying business and medicine.

Tran said the youth group is succeed-ing because of the support of Father Tran and the Vietnamese parents.

“The parents trust us with their kids,” he said. “We teach the kids about God and the Bible, and we also want to teach them about the Vietnamese traditions.”

Bishop Robert J. Baker praised the Vietnamese youth earlier this year for their commitment not only to the church, but also to their heritage.

The diocese’s Office of Ethnic Ministries is in the final stages of formulating an action plan for the bishop, aimed at addressing the needs of the roughly 1,000 Vietnamese Catholics currently living in the state.

Kathleen Merritt, diocesan director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, said the efforts of the Upstate Vietnamese youth group are already playing a key role in that diocesan plan.

“It helps the children and the families maintain the Vietnamese culture,” Merritt said. “It helps them maintain their identity without losing their culture.”