For more than five decades, Vietnamese Catholics in the Harrisburg area have called Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish their home. Known as the Mother of God Vietnamese Community, three generations have lived their faith and culture at the parish, with Masses celebrated in their native language, special devotions to Our Lady, religious education classes and social gatherings.
Now, thanks to a decree from the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Mother of God Community has an official place to call home.
On Sunday, January 29, the Vietnamese community celebrated the decree changing the parish’s name to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and the Vietnamese Martyrs Parish during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer and concelebrated by Father Charles Pham, CRM, pastor. The modification recognizes the culture, contributions and faith of the Vietnamese community’s strong presence there.
Standing before the congregation gathered for the celebration of Mass, Bishop Ronald Gainer read the official decree, “On the Renaming/Modification of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish, Harrisburg, to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and the Vietnamese Martyrs Parish.”
The decree was officially given at the Curia of the Diocese of Harrisburg and signed on December 8, 2022, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It reads, in part: “For some time now there has been a strong and vibrant presence of the Vietnamese Catholic community in Harrisburg. This community, the Mother of God Vietnamese Catholic Community, has long been a part of the Diocesan Vietnamese Apostolate and has flourished as a vital component of the spiritual status and fabric of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Harrisburg.”
“Therefore, after consultation with the current pastor, in order to better highlight and recognize that presence, as well as to foster unity among all the faithful there…the aforementioned parish will now be given the new/modified name,” the decree says.
The decree has no impact on the name of the church itself. The worship site remains under the patronage Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Vietnamese Martyrs, also known as Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions, are the known and unknown Vietnamese who died for their faith in various waves of persecution after Christianity arrived in Vietnam in 1533.
From 1630 to 1886, somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Vietnamese were martyred in their country, many held captive and suffering torture for refusing to renounce the faith under anti-Christian rulers. Their agonies included the loss of limbs, the annihilation of entire families and villages, and the branding of faces with the Vietnamese words for “sinister religion.”
St. John Paul II canonized the Vietnamese Martyrs on June 19, 1988. Their feast day is November 24.
“The Vietnamese Martyrs probably suffered the wort horrors of persecution in the history of the Church, according to Saint John Paul II. They would not deny their faith in the very midst of that horror and suffering,” Bishop Gainer told the congregation gathered for the Mass on January 29. “What a beautiful thing it is to have their names added to our patroness, Our Lady – Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.”
“Our Lord asks us to find happiness within – an attitude by which we live life. That is upside down from what the world thinks and tries to teach us,” the bishop said. “The Son of God comes as the new Torah; you will be persecuted because of your faith. ‘You will be persecuted because of me,’ Our Lord tells us. The Vietnamese Martyrs had the upside-down values of the Son of God. It was their relationship with Christ that made them die for Him. The Beatitudes are not simple rules, no, they are a new vision – one we are to live by.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Father Pham expressed gratitude for the official decree recognizing the faith, presence and contributions of the Vietnamese faithful.
“For nearly 50 years upon arriving to the Harrisburg area, the Vietnamese have called this parish home,” he said. “Now, thanks to you, Bishop Gainer, this community has a true home, a parish home where they can feel at home. We are so grateful to you, bishop, for this home.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness