Thursday, December 7, 2006

For Catholic Church, Vietnamese Are the New Irish

If you visit the Divine Word College, a tiny Catholic missionary school outside of Dubuque, Iowa, the conversations you will hear in its hallways will most likely not be carried out in English. Usually, they are in Vietnamese. So is the music played late at night in the school's cafeteria, when students are hungry for a bite.Vietnamese dominate this seminary. Forty-three out of its 67 students, about 2 out of 3, are Vietnamese."They are replacing the traditional Irish and Italian immigrants, who once provided a steady supply of priests in the States," says Len Uhal, National Vocation director, and vice president for recruitment. In his office, a map of the United States is covered with colorful thumbtacks representing potential students approached for recruitment. Many of those tacks mark Vietnamese communities. "We look to Asians, particularly Vietnamese immigrants to fill the quotas."In the last four decades, the number of priests in the United States has dropped 27 percent, to around 43,000, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. And though Asian Americans comprise of just over 1 percent of the Catholic Church in the United States, they account for 12 percent of all Catholic seminary students nationwide. And the majority of those tend to be Vietnamese.In Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, almost 15 percent of the Catholic priests are Vietnamese, a number that is rising. Last year, out of seven priests ordained in the county, three were Vietnamese. And four years ago, Vietnamese overseas celebrated when the Most Rev. Dominic Luong in Orange County became the first Vietnamese Bishop in the United States. [...snip] New American Media

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