Bishop Zinkula’s journey to Vietnam

Hoang Khanh Studio
Father Dominic Nguyen, center, Bishop Thomas Zinkula and a priest from Vietnam celebrate a Thanksgiving Mass at Father Nguyen’s home parish, Gia Yên, in Gia Kiem, Vietnam, last month.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

On his recent trip to Vietnam, Bishop Thomas Zinkula experienced welcoming and belonging — the theme for the coming year in the Diocese of Davenport — more than 8,000 miles from home.

“Even though, for the most part, we spoke different languages and were from different cultures, we could connect deeply because of our common Catholic Christian faith,” said Bishop Zinkula. He made the journey June 20-29 at the invitation of a diocesan priest he ordained just last month, Father Dominic Nguyen, a native of Vietnam who had not been home in four years.

“Father Dominic’s immediate family and relatives were very warm, friendly and hospitable. We shared a number of lively, enjoyable festive gatherings, which always included delicious meals of several courses,” Bishop Zinkula said.


Celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving with Father Nguyen in his hometown parish of 12,000 people was among three reasons Bishop Zinkula traveled to Vietnam. The second was to meet with two Vietnamese seminarians who anticipate finishing their studies in the Davenport Diocese and serving as priests here. Third, the bishop appreciates an opportunity to immerse himself in a new culture, to be present among people in their daily lives.

“I thought Bishop may like to see how the Catholic faith flourishes in my hometown, to experience a rather different culture in which the faith still grows well, perhaps so that Bishop can understand the culture that shapes our Vietnamese people,” Father Nguyen said. He hoped the trip would give the bishop a “deeper understanding of how the Vietnamese Catholics in the Diocese (of Davenport) worship and what they value” and would also lead to “missionary priests and religious to work in our diocese in the future.”  The new priest will serve as parochial vicar of Divine Mercy Parish, Burlington and St. Mary Parish, Dodgeville when he returns to the diocese next month.

The fiat — let it be done

The Diocese of Xuan Loc, to which Father Nguyen’s family belongs, is in the ecclesiastical province of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Archdiocese and includes more than 1 million Catholics (26% of the population) in a 3,700-square-mile area. Bishop John Van Ngan Do leads the diocese from a compound that includes the bishop’s house, pastoral center and a major seminary where approximately 500 seminarians are studying for the priesthood.

Bishop Zinkula met Bishop Do; Vicar General Father Dominic Tuan Anh Nguyen; the seminary’s rector, Father Paul Ngoc Phuong Nguyen; and the two seminarians chosen to serve in the Davenport Diocese, Joachim Thanh Duy Danh Nguyen, 24; and Joseph Tri Minh Hoang, 25.

Bishop Do selected the two seminarians based on their motivation, Bishop Zinkula said. “I didn’t have time to get to know the two seminarians really well, but they clearly are fine young men of deep faith,” he said. “They are both excited and anxious about coming to the United States. They have different personalities, but they seemed to relate to one another quite well. They are grateful for the opportunity to serve the wider, universal Church, basically as missionaries.”

The bishop visited the family homes of each of the seminarians, where he received warm welcomes. Both sets of parents felt honored to entrust their sons to serve the universal Church in the Davenport Diocese. One set of parents used the term “fiat” to describe their son’s readiness to serve, much as Mary accepted the call from God to be the Mother of Jesus, the bishop said. One of the families presented Bishop Zinkula with a 2-foot-tall statue of Our Lady of Nui Cui, sculpted in wood.

Bishop Zinkula celebrated Mass at the seminary on June 22, the sixth anniversary of his ordination to the episcopacy and the feast day of his “go-to saint,” St. Thomas More. In his homily he preached on the Lord’s Prayer, the focus of the day’s Gospel.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula holds a wooden statue of Our Lady of Nui Cui given to him by the family of Vietnamese seminarian Joachim Thanh Duy Danh Nguyen.

Grateful for bishop’s presence

Father Nguyen celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at his parents’ parish, Gia Yen Parish, on a Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. with Bishop Zinkula. Hundreds of people attended the liturgy, including Father Nguyen’s parents, Francis Xavier Hung Quoc Nguyen and Mary Huyen Thi Thanh Ta, who were unable to travel to Davenport for their middle son’s ordination Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Extended family members, priests who previously served the parish and many others attended, along with the two seminarians and Sister Nguyet Cao, who is living at the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport while completing studies at nearby St. Ambrose University. She was in Vietnam visiting her community and renewing her student visa.

“It was a unique experience: whose bishop would come across the globe to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving of a newly ordained priest!” Father Nguyen said. “To be honest, I felt so blessed and grateful that Bishop would make the trip to be there with me. It was so wonderful to celebrate the Eucharist for those I love so dearly and whom I was not able to serve in a long time.”

The Mass took place in what Bishop Zinkula described as a parish hall overlooking a partially covered outdoor area where the congregation sat. The old church has been torn down to make way for a new church building. Choir members were dressed in yellow attire and a band with drums and tubas played. The parish, whose 78-year-old pastor  Father Anthony Liem Khac Pham exuded joy and energy, is in the process of building a $4 million church, Bishop Zinkula said. Plants, flowers and aquariums fill the parish’s courtyard where children enjoy playing. Daily Mass — at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. — draws as many as 1,000 people; a children’s Mass is celebrated weekly at 5 a.m. Catholics’ embrace of their faith impressed the bishop.

A lasting impression

Bishop Zinkula also accompanied Father Nguy­en and his family on a visit to the hospital to see the priest’s maternal grandmother, Khuyen Thi Dang. Father Nguyen brought Eucharist to her. “She was so happy and blessed and didn’t expect that Bishop and I would stop there to visit her before Bishop went back to the States. Bishop’s visit was very touching to her,” the priest said.

During his visit, Bishop Zinkula also toured the diocesan compound, spoke with seminarians studying English and visited religious communities where he celebrated Mass, shared a meal and took tours of their day care centers. He met the diocese’s two retired bishops and visited Our Lady of Nui Cui Pilgrimage Center. For the first time, he dined on eel, snake and pigeon.

“Everyone very much enjoyed Bishop’s presence, easy-going manner and gentleness,” said Father Nguyen, who was grateful to share in that experience and in his own homecoming. “I realized that I always have the support of my family in Vietnam even though they cannot be with me in the States. I have learned from the priests here a sense of how to be a priest, i.e. being present, being flexible and loving God and others. I’ve learned to be faithful celebrating the Eucharist. I can feel the desire people have for the Eucharist in their daily life. I have learned the importance of being open-minded and culturally sensitive when ministering to the people of God.”

“The people practice and live their faith in a very intentional manner,” Bish­op Zinkula said. “There is a greater sense of community there than there is, in general, in the United States. Secularization, absolute self-autonomy and radical self-expression hasn’t infiltrated the culture and the faith like they have here.”

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *