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Home : Special Features : Asian American Catholics
7/14/2010 9:36:00 AM
Domus Dei priests revitalize, unite Vietnamese parishioners
Our Lady of Lavang photo
Domus Dei Fathers Peter Doan, Paul Cao, Dat Pham and Joseph Hau at Our Lady of Lavang.
Our Lady of Lavang photo
Domus Dei Fathers Peter Doan, Paul Cao, Dat Pham and Joseph Hau at Our Lady of Lavang.
Clarice Keating
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Francis An Pham likens the arrival of the priests of the Domus Dei Clerical Society of Apostolic Life to a transfusion — bringing new blood into Our Lady of Lavang Parish has helped revitalize the people of the parish.

“The way they do the ministry is very open,” said Pham, chairman of the pastoral council. “Everything is easy for parishioners to adapt and work well with all of the priests.”

Born in Vietnam, but trained for the priesthood in the United States, the clergymen speak both English and Vietnamese and embrace priestly practices from both cultures. That creates connectivity with all ages in the parish — for the English-speaking youngsters who grew up in Portland and also older generations who moved here, but are still in touch with the traditions of the Catholic Church in Vietnam.

Since 2004, Father Joseph Hai Dang Vu, from the society has assumed pastoral duties at the home base of the Southeast Asian Vicariate, Our Lady of Lavang, and its mission Andrew Dung Lac in Beaverton. In the meantime, there are three Domus Dei priests at Lavang, pastor Father Bartholomew Dat Pham, and parochial vicars Father Paul Binh The Cao, and Father Peter Khoi Anh Hoang Doan.

A fourth society priest, Father John Tran, serves as parochial vicar at St. James Church in McMinnville.

“The archbishop has given us the faculty to run this parish for everyone — from the youngest one here to the oldest one,” said Father Pham.

That’s no small task. Lavang is the home parish for 6,000 active members, and there are 1,100 kindergarten through 12th-graders enrolled in the catechism program there. With the assistance of the Adorers of the Holy Cross Sisters and dozens of catechists, the program teaches the young people liturgical dance and other Vietnamese Catholic traditions.

“We are very proud of our young children,” said the priest. “We do not want them to lose our culture and heritage. This generation will pass that knowledge on to the next.”

Staying in touch with the children of the parish is a unique challenge at Lavang —  there has in the past been a language barrier. Priests who primarily speak Vietnamese can connect with the older generations who have immigrated, but the youth who have grown up speaking English feel they can’t connect to their church leaders, Francis Pham said.

The Domus Dei priests use both languages in their teaching to the parish.

“The gap is still there,” Francis Pham said. “But the first generation and the third generation, they can all understand.”

Founded in 1630 by Jesuit missionary Alexander de Rhodes, Domus Dei has a long history of evangelization. After 1954, when Vietnam was divided in two, many Catholics moved from the Communist North to the South where they could freely practice their religion. During this time, Domus Dei members helped immigrants adapt to the culture and environment in their new land. That ended in 1975, when the communists overtook the South as well. Many Domus Dei Religious fled the country to the United States, where the mission has continued.

Our Lady of Lavang is named in honor of the national shrine in Vietnam, located in a jungle where Christians took refuge when they were persecuted for their faith.

There are three components to the community’s charism: Living together in the spirit of brotherhood and supporting one another in ministries; helping families live according to the model of the Holy Family; and obeying the local bishop or archbishop and carrying out the mission under his directives.
After the priests came to the Northwest, the community built a house of formation in the scenic Columbia River Gorge area, a little slice of heaven on 145 acres outside Washougal, Wash. Two priests and two brothers live there.

The priests said they enjoy serving here, carrying out their charism in Oregon, where there is no humidity and the air is clear and clean.

“We are so blessed to be here,” Father Pham said.

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