The celebration of Tet is one of the most significant customs in Vietnamese culture, reinforcing faith, family and tradition. Meaning the “festival of the first day,” Tet marks the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. It’s an occasion for celebrating family, love and hope, the successes of the previous year and optimism for the one to come.
The Vietnamese new year, celebrated on January 22 this year, was cause for another significant celebration at St. Anne and Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Lancaster – that of the first anniversary of the decree officially modifying the parish’s name to recognize the culture, contributions and faith of the Vietnamese community that has been worshiping there since 1975.
Members of the Vietnamese community, joined by a number of Anglo parishioners, filled the church on January 22, celebrating their union in faith, their accomplishments of the past year, and hope for a continued spirit of community.
Bishop Ronald Gainer joined Father Tri Luong, pastor, in the celebration of Mass and accompanied the congregation in Tet festivities with food, music and camaraderie in the parish hall.
Children, young couples and elders – many dressed in cultural attire for the occasion – attended the celebration, joined by members of the parish’s Anglo community in a sign of the parish’s vibrancy and unity.
“It is good for us to report after one year that we’ve been very happy with one another and we have worked so well,” Father Luong said at the conclusion of Mass, as he thanked Bishop Gainer for “trusting us, and entrusting us with this beautiful mission” that has particularly allowed the Vietnamese faithful to “put down roots and settle in this beautiful parish.”
The official decree “On the Renaming/Modification of St. Anne Parish, Lancaster, to St. Anne and Our Lady of La Vang Parish” was given at the Curia of the Diocese of Harrisburg and signed last January.
At the conclusion of the Mass marking the first anniversary since the decree, Bishop Gainer told the congregation he was pleased to “hear of the harmony and unity that exists” at the parish.
“We all know that while harmony and unity are gifts, they’re also projects; they need to be worked on. We have to work to develop and nourish the unity that is ours in Christ. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us.’ We are one in our Lord and Savior, and we need to develop and express that unity, and I’m so happy to hear that this first year has been a good year and has set you in the right direction,” he said.
Vibrancy and Diversity
Parishioner Vu Ho told The Catholic Witness the joining of the two communities has produced a number of spiritual and practical benefits for the parish as a whole.
“Firstly, it leads to a more vibrant and diverse parish. This creates a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all members, leading to increased participation and engagement in the life of the parish. Secondly, it leads to increased resources and support for both communities. The two communities can pool their resources and work together to achieve common goals and address shared challenges,” he said.
The unification of both communities also leads to a more efficient use of resources, as well as greater spiritual growth and development, Ho pointed out. “By coming together in prayer, worship and service, the two communities can strengthen their faith and deepen their relationship with God.”
“The youth generation greatly benefits from the merger, particularly the Vietnamese generation who are growing up in America,” he said. “The increase in cultural understanding and exchange allows for a greater appreciation and acceptance of different perspectives, customs, and traditions among the young people.”
Parishioner Christine Whalen, Chair of the Parish Council, said “validation, purpose and hope for the future of the parish is an overlying benefit” of the two communities joining together. “For years, rumors had swirled about the closing of the parish. The Vietnamese bring a new vitality to the parish. We feel the parish is being made new, evolving to accommodate God’s plan. We see God’s hand in all of this.”
In the past year, the parish has hosted joint activities for the Vietnamese and Anglo communities, including cultural events, youth activities, music programs, services for Divine Mercy Sunday and during Advent, and the formation of a committee to plan activities for the parish’s 100th anniversary this year.
Members of both communities were also involved in the design of a new parish logo to represent their respective traditions and cultures. With input from different groups, the design committee presented a logo reflective of the people of the parish. St. Anne, at the top in a mother/guardian position and European-artist depiction, turns her eyes downward to Mary and the Infant Jesus. Her veil envelops Mary and the Christ child, representative of the “gathering in” of the parish. Mary is depicted in traditional Our Lady of La Vang styling, with a Vietnamese appearance and a khan dong hat with 12 stars representing the 12 virtues of the Blessed Mother. The infant Jesus is shown in traditional Vietnamese dress with a welcoming expression indicative of the welcoming atmosphere found at St. Anne and Our Lady of La Vang Parish.
The logo was a significant project for the newly-decreed parish, and one illustration of how its communities have worked together.
While the numerous successes haven’t come without challenges, the hurdles have been secondary, Whalen said.
“We realize we need to understand each other and our respective cultures better,” she said. “Father Tri understands both and has been a great source for shedding light to help us understand each other.”
Language barriers remain a challenge, and work continues in efforts to join the leadership councils, Whalen said. “Through trial and error, we are making some progress.”
Strengthening the Vietnamese Community
The past year has bolstered the Vietnamese community, helping to solidify its members as a group and individually.
“The increased cultural exchange and understanding has allowed members of the Vietnamese community to connect more deeply with their cultural heritage and traditions. This has led to a renewed sense of pride and identity among the members of the community,” Ho said.
“Additionally, the increased resources and support provided by the joint community have allowed the Vietnamese community to become more self-sufficient and better able to address the needs of its members. The community is more organized and has more resources at its disposal to support its members,” he said. “Furthermore, the Vietnamese community has become more involved in the life of the parish as a whole. Members of the Vietnamese community are more actively participating in the worship, education and volunteer opportunities in the parish. This has led to a deeper sense of belonging and community among the members.”
Parish leaders and parishioners recognize that their efforts must continue, and remain hopeful for the blessings yet to be revealed as the parish prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
“There is still a journey ahead of us to continue,” Father Luong said. “But, there is no doubt that we are going to become a beautiful parish. As we gather to celebrate the Vietnamese new year, so, in a way, in this unique parish, we will always have two new years to celebrate – Tet, and the anniversary of this parish community.”
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness