Vietnamese youth explore faith, heritage at VYC5

Traditional Vietnamese drummers from San Jose, California, led by Frere Phong, perform during the opening day of Vietnamese Youth Convention 5, held in Tacoma July 3-5. Photo: Doan Le. Traditional Vietnamese drummers from San Jose, California, led by Frere Phong, perform during the opening day of Vietnamese Youth Convention 5, held in Tacoma July 3-5. Photo: Doan Le.

TACOMA – Hundreds of young Vietnamese Catholics from the U.S. and beyond converged on Pacific Lutheran University July 3-5, imparting a festive, faith-filled energy to the sundrenched campus.

For the first time since its inception in 2003, the Vietnamese Youth Convention was assembling outside California, and more than 1,700 participants flooded into the outdoor registration area, rolling suitcases as a VYC5 spirit crew dressed in neon pink T-shirts led cheers and formed human pyramids.

Img1Participants gather around the cross during a Taize prayer session July 4 at Vietnamese Youth Convention 5 in Tacoma. Photo: Daniel Luu

The three-day convention, themed “In Christ Alone,” was hosted by Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Tukwila. The event was designed to help young Vietnamese Catholics deepen their faith and their appreciation for their heritage, said Father Thanh Dao, pastor of Vietnamese Martyrs and chaplain for the convention.

“The youth is the hope of the church, the future of the church,” Father Dao said. “In the U.S. and other countries we need to focus more on the youth.”

Vietnamese youth, many of whom have parents and grandparents who were refugees after the fall of South Vietnam, face unique challenges to keep their faith and remain connected to their cultural heritage, he said. The international youth convention held every three years gives them a way to explore both.

Img2Young adults play to the camera during an outdoor concert at VYC5 July 4. More than 1,700 participants from around the country and overseas attended the convention, hosted by Vietnamese Martyrs Parish of Tukwila. Photo: Patrick Nguyen

“It’s a good thing that they can come and find in each other the zeal to live for Christ,” Father Dao said. “They get a shot in faith and return to their parish and participate actively in many ministries. I’m happy because they have found something for their soul.”

Vivian Le of Our Lady of Lavang Parish in San Jose, California, said “I came here because it was the opportunity to see what Seattle is like and see VYC because it’s my first time.” Le, who arrived with a group from her parish, said “It’s also like it’s another way for me to connect to God and strengthen my faith in him.”

‘God’s witnesses’

As participants continued to stream in before the opening ceremony, a young volunteer operated a drone mounted with a camera to capture video of the new arrivals, mostly wearing their own colorful T-shirts identifying their home parishes. With temperatures reaching the 90s, many found their way to a cooling station that sprayed them with a fine mist as they passed through.

The convention offered multiple opportunities for worship as well as concerts, workshops, eucharistic adoration, games and sports activities for the hundreds of the youthful attendees who traveled from more than 20 U.S. states, Norway, England, Canada and Vietnam to participate.

Img3Balloons take flight during the opening ceremony of VYC5, held July 3-5 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. More than 1,700 youth and young adults from around the country and overseas attended the convention, hosted by Vietnamese Martyrs Parish of Tukwila. Photo: Doan Le

Workshop topics ranged from relationship issues to serving the poor. Helen Nguyen, a local pro-life advocate, was scheduled to conduct one of the workshops to help the young people “discern and be a witness in everyday life,” she said.

“I’ll talk about my own witness and how I got started in pro-life ministry. We are God’s witnesses now and how we can be of use to him,” she said.

Eric Tran, a co-chair and member of Mercer Island’s St. Monica Parish, said the event required two years of planning and more than 150 volunteers. About 250 donors, with gifts ranging from $5 to $10,000, helped organizers exceed their fundraising goal of $100,000 for the convention, he said.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain encouraged the organizers to bring the youth convention to the Archdiocese of Seattle and had planned to deliver the opening keynote address and celebrate Mass on the first day. That was before he learned he would have to undergo a second back surgery on June 30.

Img6The spirit crew at Vietnamese Youth Convention 5 lead participants in outdoor activities before the opening festivities of Vietnamese Youth Convention 5, held July 3-5 in Tacoma. Photo: Doan Le

Standing in for Archbishop Sartain was Bishop Vincent Long of Melbourne, Australia. Bishop Long was born in Vietnam, where he studied in a minor seminary before it was disbanded by the communist government. He escaped from Vietnam as a boat person in 1980.

He said he wanted to tell the young people gathered in Tacoma that they have a special mission to accomplish in American society as children of “the great Vietnamese martyrs. The faith of their forebears has been passed on to them and it’s their turn to nurture it and to make it their fruit.”

Thomas Tran, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle and recent graduate of Gonzaga University currently studying theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, said VYC5 was his first Vietnamese Youth Convention and he was excited to meet so many young Vietnamese people from the U.S. and other nations. “It’s the unity of the Vietnamese culture because even though we were born here, we still have that Vietnamese culture within us,” he said.

The convention was held at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, because it could accommodate the number of expected attendees, and because it includes dormitory lodging for up to 1,200.


The opening ceremony for the Vietnamese Youth Convention included the La San Traditional Vietnamese Drummers from San Jose, California. They have performed at VYC for all five years. Video Credit: VYC5 Photography Team
Greg Magnoni

Greg Magnoni was the founding editor and associate publisher of Northwest Catholic until 2018.