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Vietnamese youth group honours culture

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Early Sunday morning in Pooraka (during non-coronavirus times) and Our Lady of the Boat People Church is filled with the sounds of excited young children and teens preparing to share their faith together.

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In contrast to many parishes struggling to keep young people engaged with the Church, the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement – which is part of a national network – is thriving. With 280 young people enrolled and an average attendance of about 200 each week, it appears the focus on their faith and culture is a winning combination.

Arriving with their families to attend the 9am community Mass that is spoken in Vietnamese, the children then take a short break before moving to their age appropriate group where learning about their faith and Vietnamese traditions continues from 10.30am to 12.30pm. Aged from 5 to 19, the young people are in the care of 62 leaders who, like them, were once members of the youth movement and have transitioned to this role.

Youth movement president, Julian Nguyen, said it is a privilege to be supporting so many children on their faith journey. He suggested the ongoing success of the youth group was due to the “strong structures” that had been developed over many years and the “sense of culture” that was so important for the Vietnamese community.

Younger members of the youth group from left, Ruby Nguyen, Lidia Dang, Minh-Chuong Tran and Minh-Duc Dao.

“A big part of our Vietnamese culture is our Catholic faith,” he said.

“And it’s part of our culture for the young people to attend Mass and then go to the youth group while the parents stay around the community or be close by.

“Our youth group has been running for so long that we are seeing many of the parents who grew up with the same sort of structure and routines now having their children attending the youth group.”

Mr Nguyen added the youth movement was “very blessed” to have strong structures in place.

“The youth group structure has followed a very similar path over the past 37 years and we are all very clear of the different roles, how people transition and the type of activities we do.

“Everyone in the Vietnamese community is very supportive of the youth group and that’s how it has stayed so vibrant through all these years.”

Honouring and passing on the Vietnamese culture and traditions with the young people – some of whom are the second generation to be born here – is a priority for the youth group.

Mr Nguyen said language was an important element to keeping a culture and the Catholic faith alive and the Vietnamese Catholic Community made a constant effort to form the children to be bilingual (English-Vietnamese).

“The Vietnamese culture also has a lot of songs that we use during the general activities…singing and praising in that way is definitely part of our culture.

“Our Mass is in Vietnamese and a lot of prayers we read in youth group are Vietnamese. Recently during the 9am Mass, our chaplain has given the homily in both Vietnamese and English for the children’s spiritual benefits.

“We run a youth camp every year and a lot of the things we do on the camp has a large Vietnamese component to it. Sometimes we ask them to act out stories in the Bible and encourage it be spoken in Vietnamese.”

The son of parents who were boat people in the ‘80s, Mr Nguyen like many young people joined the youth movement from a young age. However, his journey took a slightly different path shortly after as he then spent many years in the community’s choir, until at the age of 15 he felt the “calling to be with other young people”.

“I found my way to the youth group later on, and haven’t looked back,” he said.

As one of the four SA lay delegates recently announced to attend the Plenary Council assemblies,
Mr Nguyen, 27, said he was looking forward to providing the voice of young people and a multicultural perspective to the Plenary discussions.

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