Vietnamese Catholics find a new home - Catholic Courier

Vietnamese Catholics find a new home

GATES — Although the ice cream at St. Helen Parish was chilly, the June 24 reception for the Vietnamese Catholic Community was anything but.

On that day, members of the Vietnamese community were welcomed by parishioners of St. Helen, where the community will now be based after the closing of its former home, Rochester’s St. Anthony of Padua (see related story on page 2).

Parishioners of both communities introduced themselves June 24, sat together during Mass and shared tables during an ice cream social.

“You warm our hearts, and it is great to have you here today,” Father John Firpo, pastor of St. Helen, said during Mass.

He also tried out a greeting in Vietnamese, which drew applause from Vietnamese members.

“I wanted to say greetings and God bless you; what you have heard, I have no control,” he joked, drawing laughter from the group and several pronunciation suggestions after the Mass.

The combined Vietnamese and English Mass featured hymns, readings and prayers in both languages. The parish now celebrates Masses in English at 4 p.m. Saturdays and at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Sundays and in Vietnamese at 12:30 p.m. Sundays.

“You are now at home with us, and we are at home with you,” Father Firpo said during the Mass. “I say to you, this is God’s day. This is God’s mercy being done on us together.”

Echoing Father Firpo, a diocesan official said parish leaders worked hard to make St. Helen feel like a home for the Vietnamese community. Karen Rinefierd, a diocesan pastoral-planning liaison who attended the Mass, said the first step in the transitioning process was for the Vietnamese community to choose a new home.

St. Helen’s warmth toward the Vietnamese community and its proximity to the community’s former home at St. Anthony factored into the decision to move to the Gates parish, she said. Once St. Helen had been chosen, Rinefierd said that representatives of the Vietnamese community and St. Helen formed a transition team, which has been working out the details of the move for several months.

One of the first things the team did was to share their backgrounds, Rinefierd said. Many in the Vietnamese community had been uprooted several times, with many moving from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, and then immigrating to the U.S., she said.

“The stories those of us Anglos heard were quite humbling,” she said.

Members of the community also put up posters at St. Helen to teach members about Vietnamese traditions, said transition-team member Ron McMillan, the parish’s liturgy director. Father Firpo spoke to the Vietnamese community as well, said Joseph Nguyen of Greece, vice president of the Vietnamese Catholic Community. One of the things that united the transition team was food, Rinefierd said, noting that most of meetings included delicious dishes.

The transition team will continue to meet for several months to deal with details and any issues that arise, Rinefierd said. The team also is exploring ways to bring the communities together, including establishing Vietnamese-language classes for English-speaking children, she said.

“Father Paul Tomasso (St. Anthony’s pastor) has been an amazing help through this entire thing,” Rinefierd said. “He’s giving up a part of his community for the Vietnamese community to join us, yet he wanted to make it a smooth transition.”

In his homily, which he delivered in Vietnamese, the Vietnamese priest encouraged the Vietnamese community to work with St. Helen parishioners to increase membership and to not feel as if they were visitors at the Gates church, Nguyen said.

“His message was this is our new home, and we should work together,” Nguyen said.

Many members of the Vietnamese community have already volunteered to assist with St. Helen’s festival July 20 and 21, said Donna Decker, a member of the parish-life committee.

Ly Ly Delles of Greece, who came to the United States in 1991 through a program for Vietnamese children of American servicemen, said members of the Vietnamese community were a bit overwhelmed by the enthusiastic welcome they’ve received. She said she was pleased to see that St. Helen leaders were open to what the Vietnamese community has had to say.

“It went much smoother than I expected,” Delles said. “As for Father John (Firpo), he was great. He was very patient.”

Following the Mass, Father Firpo said the day was a new beginning for both communities. He said the transition will allow both communities to learn from each other’s cultures and traditions.

“I’ve been in awe of the acceptance and energy of both the English-speaking and the Vietnamese-speaking communities to make this day a reality,” Father Firpo said. “I truly believe it’s God’s work.”

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