Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hmong Catholics gather for prayer and discussion at meeting in St. Paul

Hmong Catholic leaders from across the United States gathered in St. Paul July 9 to 12 to participate in a conference sponsored by the St. Paul-based Hmong American National Catholic Association and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The theme of the biennial gathering, held at the mostly Hmong parish of St. Vincent de Paul, was “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

About 50 people attended the conference, which included Bible study, communal prayer and talks focused on issues of concern to the Hmong Catholic community.

Large local population

Several waves of Hmong refugees have immigrated to the United States since the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Most have settled in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Twin Cities has one of the largest Hmong populations in the country, according to Deacon Naokao Yang of St. Vincent de Paul parish.

About 100 Hmong families currently belong to the parish, he said.

At the conference, speakers addressed issues such as the challenges of inculturation, generational differences and the blending of traditional shamanistic beliefs and rituals with Cath­olicism, said Houa Her, president of HANCA, the sponsoring organization.

Her tells Hmong Catholics they should respect traditional beliefs, but he encourages them not to participate in rituals that are not Catholic.

“We want to help our children to be more faithful to the church,” he said.

Moving in right direction

Language barriers are also a challenge, Her said. St. Vincent de Paul has had several different pastors in recent years, but few have spoken Hmong.

Currently, Deacon Yang serves as an interpreter at Masses. In past years, some Hmong Catho­lics have left to join Protestant churches that have Hmong-speaking pastors, Her said.

But despite the challenges, Deacon Yang said, membership at St. Vincent de Paul has been steady for the past couple of years.

“People feel that there’s some hope [in the church],” he said. “They see that the community is moving in the right direction.” Catholic Spirit

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