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 | By Brittany DeHaan

Vietnamese Community Praises God in Their Native Language

Duong Le is a Vietnamese refugee who came to America with his family in 1993 seeking freedom and dignity. His father was a prisoner of war who suffered mental and physical anguish. The family struggled to find the basic necessities of life, but that changed when they migrated to America.

“Every day, we give thanks to God for blessing our family and giving us a better life in this country,” said Le, who is Catholic.

Being able to participate in Sunday Mass in his native language has meant so much to his family. 

“We better understand the Gospel and everything at the Mass,” said Duong Le, referring to the Vietnamese Mass he attends each Sunday at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Holiday, located in Pasco County.

It also helps the younger generations understand their heritage and history.

“Having a Vietnamese-language Mass is keeping the younger generation connected to their mother language as well as [giving them a way to] participate in Vietnamese activities to maintain the culture,” said Le.

Also, older members of the community rely on the Vietnamese Mass because it’s the only language they understand. 

Father Dominic Long, S.S.S., a priest from the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament-Province of St. Ann, has only been the pastor at St. Vincent de Paul for a few months. He was specifically invited by his religious order to come and minister to the Vietnamese community here in Florida. He was born in Vietnam and has seen firsthand the impact of the Vietnamese ministry at this parish.

He says many are grateful to participate in the Mass in their native language. 

“People here told me ‘I feel more comfortable with Vietnamese Mass’ and ‘I understand more of the Word of God.’ They went to other churches but could not understand,” said Father Long. 

In addition to Sunday Mass, the Vietnamese community gathers on Tuesday nights to pray together by a statue of Our Lady of La Vang, a reported Marian apparition from Vietnam who appeared during a time when Catholics there were persecuted and killed. The community puts together a few events a year, primarily a festival for the Lunar New Year. They also help decorate the church for Christmas and Advent. 

Father Long has seen growth since his arrival at the parish. The Vietnamese Mass now averages between 150 and 200 parishioners each week.

“I can see the grace and blessings from God because the number is increasing,” said Father Long. “When people hear our parish has the Vietnamese Mass, they come here. They move from other states for the sunshine and find out it’s wonderful to have the Vietnamese Mass here. I am so happy to see them, and I hope that God will gather more and more people.”

Two Vietnamese Parishes 

Two other parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg serve the Vietnamese community. 

Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Parish
4000 43rd Street N., St. Petersburg

Pastor: Father Viet Nguyen
Established as a Mission in 1991
Established as a Parish in 2019

  • The Vietnamese community in South Pinellas County has grown from just 15 families meeting in a small church in Largo to a congregation of over 450 active families.
  • Bishop Parkes blessed and dedicated a new altar for the parish March 12, 2022, after a five-month renovation project. The bishop entrusted to them the property formerly owned by Transfiguration Parish and School.
  • The altar, ambo, and baptismal font are all made of white marble imported from Vietnam. 
  • Inside the altar, there are relics from Saint Rose of Lima and Vietnamese Martyr St. Dominic Tuoc Vu. Below the tabernacle is a vessel containing first-class relics of 22 of the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam.

St. Joseph Vietnamese Parish
5601 Hanley Road, Tampa

Pastor: Father Chien X. Dinh, S.V.D.
Established as a Mission in 1991
Established as a Parish in 2020

  • The Catholic Vietnamese community in Tampa celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving on November 25, 2020, in gratitude for their new church, located at 5601 Hanley Road, in Tampa. 
  • Despite the pandemic, enough money was raised for the new church within just a few months of identifying a location that would meet the needs of this growing community.
  • Previously, St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission shared space with Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in Tampa.
  • Bishop Parkes blessed and dedicated their new altar on May 9, 2021.

Brittany DeHaan serves as Communications Coordinator for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.