The church is challenged to include Asians

GREENVILLE — The diocesan vicar for Vietnamese ministry attended the Asian and Pacific Institute for Mission and Ministry conference in Ft. Lauderdale on May 21-23. Franciscan Father Dac Tran expected to gain a new appreciation of the values other nationalities bring to the universal church; he was surprised to find out that as an ethnic Vietnamese he shared a pedigree with Jesus.

“That was an eye-opener for me. We have always associated Christianity with European missionaries,” Father Tran said.

The premise of Jesus’ ethnic nationality is based on John Paul’s 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, which the author begins by stating: “In the fullness of time, he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the savior, who took flesh as an Asian!” The pope describes the Holy Land as the western part of the continent of Asia.

However geographers define Palestine, the Catholic Church certainly has its roots in Asia along with all the other major religions, according to Father Tran. And he thinks it’s a perfect culture in which to nurture the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament.

“The people from Asia are very sensitive to the sacred. They hold to family order, remembering their deceased ancestors as the fourth commandment teaches us. They appreciate harmony,” he said.

The Vietnamese priest quoted Jesus as telling us to leave our offerings at the altar and go home to reconcile with our family before coming back to church. That attitude is natural to Asian peoples.

“This is in the blood of the Asian people,” Father Tran said. “We all have a lot to learn from one another.”

He said that one thing we should learn better is acceptance of the uncommon things and people among us. It’s the Christian thing to do, and it helps us to expand our own horizons.

“We should be more welcoming to new arrivals, to appreciate their values and share them in the local church,” Father Tran said. “If we keep our eyes open, we can see the richness of the world.”

The vicar hopes to include that sort of cultural richness in a major meeting of all the Pacific and Asian ethnic minorities in the Diocese of Charleston someday, to include Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians, Philippinos and Chinese-speaking cultures. He will arrange that sort of heritage celebration through the parent organization of his vicarage, the Office of Ethnic Ministries. Quoting a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), he said that Catholics as a church need “unity in diversity.” He is concerned about the loss of that diversity as immigrants to this country try to become part of the main American culture at the expense of their own. He is seeing just that among the Vietnamese-American families he serves.

“The temptation is to rush into assimilation. Once people get into the rat race, they can lose their rich heritage,” he said.

Father Tran said that participants in the Institute, which was sponsored by the USCCB, were challenged as church leaders to go out of their own communities and be more sensitive to other groups and to try to preserve their rich heritages.