State’s only all-Vietnamese Catholic parish celebrates 20 years

A Catholic Vietnamese community in the small Mississippi city of Biloxi has just celebrated the first 20 years of having its own church in its own parish.

The Vietnamese Martyrs Church is the state’s only all-Vietnamese Catholic parish.

Last Sunday hundreds gathered for celebrations at the church, filling a building that has always been a place for much more than worship.

“Our culture, our language, our families, our food and our faith all revolve around the Vietnamese Martyrs Church,” Andrew Bui, president of the parish council said during the celebratory service.

The congregation also honored the 96 Vietnamese Catholics and 21 European missionaries, who as the “Vietnamese martyrs”, collectively serve as the church’s patron saint.

Despite Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party opposing the martyrs’ beatification, Pope John Paul II canonized all 117 martyrs in 1988.

Their collective feast day is on 24 November.

The martyrs represent at least 130,000 Vietnamese killed because of their faith across centuries and dynasties.

Although religious freedom is technically enshrined in Vietnam’s laws, Catholics say they still face government persecution.

During the service, congregation members carried a box containing relics of about 30 of the Vietnamese Martyrs on a flower-covered pallet to the altar. The church now has relics of about 50 of the saints, Bui says.

“We have papers and the seal from the Vatican certifying that these are the real relics, it’s not chicken bones.”

Biloxi Diocese Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III delivered the homily at  last Sunday’s Vietnamese Catholic community celebrations.

He spoke in English, pausing every few sentences so that another priest could deliver the Vietnamese translation.

All attendees wore face masks, including some emblazoned with the words “Vietnamese Martyrs Church.” Others sported masks in the colors of the flag of South Vietnam.

A post-service celebratory lunch was served outside.

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