Vũng Tàu is a seaport town located where the Saigon River empties into the South China Sea. It is very striking with ships anchored off shore and beautiful beaches. In the 1980s and 1990s it was a port of departure for many of the “boat people”, that is, Vietnamese refugees like Fr. Binh.
Huong has two sisters who live there and we stayed at the home of her sister Dung (JOONG) and her husband Khanh. The other sister, Thanh lives a few houses away with her husband Hoi. Just as Huong is involved in SARA and is in Vietnam to see the SARA sponsored programs, her sisters are very engaged in charity work in the Vũng Tàu area. I am amazed at the level of organization and involvement in the church in Vietnam.
Hoi and his sons took us around to meet the local parish priest and the Bishop of this new Diocese of Bà Ria, founded in 2005. Bishop Toma Nguyen Van Tram is the brother of Sr. Nguyen Phuong Ha who lives in Beaverton as one of the Sisters Adorers of the Holy Cross Thu Thiem. He says that they don’t have enough priests to serve the parishes now (less than 80), but he has plenty of seminarians (100). So many he cannot afford to send them all to seminary. For various reasons only 8-10 can enter a year, though he has more applicants. I told him that our archdiocese has about 50 seminarians (we have about 100 active priests) and that we are in the midst of a capital campaign because we also struggle to pay the costs of seminary formation.
I asked the bishop how often they start new parishes, he said they create 2 or 3 a year. The Diocese is new and they just built a cathedral for $4 million, compared to $5 million for our parish church. I thought that it was amazing that a Cathedral would cost that little, but I believe it is due to the differences in economies, cheap labor and lots of donated work. They are completing his residence and still need to build a Pastoral Center for the diocesan offices. Fr. Binh and I gave the Bishop a bottle of Oregon wine.
Mass this morning for the First Saturday was at 5:30am and was packed with people overflowing outside. The Mass we will attend tomorrow will be at 6am and I expect that one to be crowded as well. It is certainly cooler at that hour. But they have full Masses at all hours. The dedication and piety of the Vietnamese church is very impressive.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
After 6am Sunday Mass we went to visit Dominican sisters who live near the church. We had a small breakfast with mangoes from their own trees that were excellent. Then we toured their property with their many tropical fruit trees and saw their two monkeys (in cages) that were donated to delight the children in their school. Then we met their novices who sang for us. (Everybody LOVES to sing here!)
We took a hired van back to Saigon and get ready for our 4-day group tour to Cambodia that leaves 4am Monday. Please keep us in your prayers. I have no idea if I will be able to get on the internet in Cambodia, so there may be a gap of postings on this blog. But I’ll post more when I get the chance.
Fr. Binh, Huong and I took a hydroplane boat like this one to Vũng Tàu where the Saigon river empties into the South China Sea.
Meeting the local pastor, Fr. Vu Cong Doan. L to R: Hoi (Huong’s brother-in-law married to her sister Thanh), Huong, Dung (JOONG – Huong’s sister), Fr. Doan, Fr. Binh and me.
Huong, Hoi, Bishop Toma Nguyen Van Tram of the Diocese of Bà Ria (founded in 2005), Quang (son of Hoi), Fr. Binh and myself.
Walking down from the shrine Fr. Binh talked to everybody just to spread good cheer. These are some youth who saw me and (like a lot of people do here) said, “Hello!”, in English. I say my few Vietnamese expressions that everyone says I am pronouncing correctly, but they always laugh. I think they just don’t expect Vietnamese to come out of an American mouth.
The crabs (smaller than our Dungeness crabs) are scooped alive out of the tub. The big pinchers have been removed.
Some of Huongs family at dinner: Fr. Binh, Huong, Suong (Hoi’s daughter), Quang, Sang, their mother Thanh (Tan) and their father Hoi.
Fr. Binh and Dung (Joong) outside Dung and Khanh’s home after 6am Sunday Mass. People really dress up for church. It is much cooler when Mass is early. Temperatures have been in the high 80s.
We stopped by the Dominican sisters who live by the parish church, they offered us a small breakfast including a small glass of wine before 8am! I just LOVE this country!
The sisters showed us some of their property, including banana trees. This variety is smaller, but more flavorful than what I am used to. They are almost ready to harvest.
A mango tree. The sisters served us very fresh and sweet mangos for breakfast with incredible flavor.
One of the two monkeys that were donated to amuse the children at the school that the sisters operate.
Fr. Binh on the back of Suong’s motorcycle. In the United States most people have cars and some have motorcycles. It is the exact opposite here. Also in the USA, it would be less common for a woman to drive a motorcycle, but here they are just as prevalent as men, but the women ride with much better posture.