by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Provincial Director

On our first full day in Vietnam earlier this month, Brother Daryl Charron and I joined Father Dien Truong, Peter Tam Hoang, and the three seminarians who would become Pledged Candidates the following week at the church where Father Dien often celebrates Mass for the 5:00 PM Sunday Eucharist. We arrived early and Dien introduced me to the pastor who was playing the piano in the church basement.
The pastor was ordained in 1973. He greeted me warmly in his black cassock, extending his hand with a warm smile. He was very hospitable, reaching into his cassock and pulling out a rosary made of seeds from the rural area in Vietnam where he grew up. The seeds were about the size of marbles, rough and raw. Though he didn’t speak much English, Dien translated for us. My first thought was that he must have studied with Dennis Schaab because one of the first things he said to me was, “You will preach at Mass tonight.”
As the pastor showed us around the grounds of the church, it was evident that maybe he was closer to Danny Schaefer than Denny Schaab. As you know, our first provincial was a wood carver—Precious Blood Center has many of his religious carvings on display in the dining room and chapel. In the church basement, large statues carved from trees towered over a life-sized infant Jesus, also carved from wood. Then the pastor took us out on the patio and the rest of the Nativity scene was on display—all the figures were large but expertly defined and carved from trees from the pastor’s part of the country. A large wood sculpture of the Holy Family guarded the sanctuary in the church.
The pastor was also fond of wooden tables. One of the largest tables I’ve seen—it must have taken the thirty strongest weightlifters in Ho Chi Minh City to carry it—dominated the patio. This man believes in tables, strong tables made of wood. Maybe he knows that tables are a place where reconciliation can happen, where dialogue is possible, where bread is broken and wine shared.
This gentle pastor also knows something about living in the shadow of the cross. He spent time in prison helping people escape after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Just before the Mass at which Dien presided and preached, the pastor and all those gathered for Mass witnessed the marriage of a young bride and groom. They walked down the aisle in the opening procession and were front and center during the liturgy. After witnessing their vows, the pastor turned the Mass over to Dien. After communion, I said a few words which Dien translated of course, mainly congratulating the newlyweds on their new life together. As Dien and I were leaving, the groom came running after us and asked us to be in a picture with them.
On their 25th wedding anniversary, I can just hear one of their children or grandchildren asking, “Who was that old white guy at your wedding?”
In the Leadership Column in the April issue of The New Wine Press, I will reflect on our visit to Vietnam and especially the Pledged Candidacy celebration.