Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My weekend in Lafayette, LA

Last weekend, I was invited to do mission preaching at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. The pastor of this church is Fr. Thomas James, SVD and the associate pastor is Fr. Michael Long Vu, SVD. Fr. Michael is my ordination classmate. There were ten people in our class. The rest of our classmates are working in other places in the world. Michael ended up in the south and I ended up in Thailand.

I didn't intend to go to LA at first, but when I called Michael, he invited me to come. He said the parishioners at his church are generous to missionaries and they are very welcoming. So was Fr. James. When Michael asked Fr. James if I could come to do mission preaching at his church, he didn't hesitate to agree.

Fr. James is an African American priest. He's a good hearted man, and his demeanor is always cheerful. We didn't talk too much when I was there because Fr. James decided to take the weekend off, going fishing, watching football, and doing other things. But I never felt that I was not welcomed. I just had to make myself at home, and I had no trouble doing that since this was an SVD parish.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church has a lot of history to it. Next month, it's celebrating 75 years anniversary. It started just as a small chapel headed by 4 African American SVD priests. These were the first African American priests to be ordained. At that time, due to segregation in the South, our SVD priests could integrate into the diocese like the rest of the white priests. So they started this chapel. Now 75 years later, IHM is a vibrant African American parish. There are 5 Masses on the weekends and 2 Masses on Monday. Michael told me that the weekday morning mass has about 100 attendants, which is not bad.

When I was at Lafayette, I had to "work for my money" so to speak. Fr. James let me preside and preach at all the weekend masses. Fr. Michael was always by my side to make sure I didn't feel uncomfortable in front of the congregation. But at no point did I feel uncomfortable because this was one of the most welcoming bunch of people I have ever met. They were also good hearted people who were always aware that they were blessed.

They were blessed with a good pastor, a good church, and good parishioners. On Sunday, I celebrated 4 masses from 6 a.m. until noon, but I remained surprisingly strong by the time I finished. No doubt the people's cheerful and welcoming attidue had something to do with it. They even made me forget that I had come down with a flu on Friday and had barely begun to subside by Sunday.

I felt good preaching to the congregation. Even though this was the first time I celebrated Mass with a predominantly African-American congregation, I really felt at home. I didn't feel like I needed to change my style to be like the "Baptist minister" to appeal to African Americans. I simply preached what I knew and what I felt based on the Scripture reading and my missionary experience. As usual, before I begin the Gospel reading, I stand in front of the altar and pray that God sends the Spirit upon me in order to direct and transform my mouth so I can preach the Word with conviction. I never begin preaching without asking for the Holy Spirit to descend upon me and work in me. And the congregation responded well.

I guess this is the beauty of the Catholic Church. No matter where we go, Vietnam, Thailand, or the U.S., there is always some commonalities that we can find. It makes us comfortable in new situation because we believe in the same God and speak from the same faith. And it's the working of the same Holy Spirit.

I was truly grateful for last weekend. I got to know a whole new congregation that I did not know before. It is certainly a place that I will come back to visit the next chance I get to return to the U.S.

Costa Mesa, CA 26.10.2009

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