Vietnamese parishioners celebrate major feast day

GREENVILLE — Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholics gathered at Our Lady of the Rosary Church on Nov. 16 to celebrate one of their two major ethnic feast days, the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

Father Joseph Quanh Nguyen, a Divine Word Missionary visiting from Iowa, was the presenter for a mission held on Saturday and on Sunday morning.

Sister Maria Bernard Tran, a Pauline from Charleston, taught catechesis to the Vietnamese Sunday school teachers, most of whom were young men and women, either college or high school age. Sister Tran used Joseph White’s “Seven Secrets of a Successful Catechist” as the basis for her workshops. She was impressed with the dedication of the volunteer teachers.

“They are people of faith,” Sister Tran said. “It shows they are very generous with their time, because young people have so many things to do in their lives.”

The older Vietnamese Catholics, who came from every corner of South Carolina and from parts of North Carolina to participate in Father Quanh’s mission, also have busy lives, but they showed up in great numbers. They filled Our Lady of the Rosary Church for the feast day liturgy. Many in the crowd were children and teenagers. All sang and answered the priest’s call with enthusiasm during the mission talks before Mass. That didn’t surprise the administrator of the host parish.

“This is a big feast day for the Vietnamese community,” said Father Dac T. Tran.

The Franciscan pastor said that Rock Hill has more than 80 Vietnamese Catholic families; Greenville has more than 150 families. Other pockets are spread throughout the Diocese of Charleston.

In South Carolina, Vietnamese Catholics (who were a minority in South Vietnam before the Communist takeover of that country) gather to celebrate the May crowning of Our Lady of LaVang. But this November feast commemorates the deaths of 130,000 Catholics killed in what native Vietnamese call “three sorrowful centuries” (from 1700 until 1886).

Of that number killed for practicing their Christian faith, 117 were beatified by Popes Leo XIII, Pius X and Pius XII, and canonized on June 19, 1988, by Pope John Paul II. They include eight bishops, 50 priests (13 of whom were visiting missionaries), 16 catechists, one seminarian and 42 lay people.

Under the bloody reign of King Canh Thinh (1792-1801), Our Blessed Virgin appeared in a town called LaVang to encourage and strengthen the persecuted Catholics.

The Greenville celebration included a song-filled procession of hundreds before the commemorative Mass. It was celebrated by Father Tran and concelebrated by Father Quanh and a second South Carolina Vietnamese priest, Father Bui Phong, a prison chaplain for the diocese.

The feast day ended, appropriately, with a huge meal of Vietnamese food in the parish hall.