The History of the Our Lady of Lavang Parish
Some Highlights of
The Lady of Lavang's Parish in Albuquerque
A Parish Without Frontier
Speaking about the Lady of Lavang's Parish, one can visualize that it was one of the five first Vietnamese parishes authorized to form and function in the whole USA.
From the onset its members scattered in an area of 121,598 sq. miles, comprise only 30 catholic families and some unmarried men and women. The Church was built on a land of 5 acres, located in the heart of the city at the corner of Gonzales and Coors Streets.
It is the only church for all the Vietnamese Catholics living in the State of New Mexico.
Let's look back the past.
In the year 1975 when some Vietnamese refugees fearing Communist persecution came to settle in New Mexico, they were amazed to find a strange environment, totally different from their motherland. The people were of a different race and spoke a language they could not under-stand. They were frustrated when they first attended Mass: they could not understand one word spoken by the priest. Then the nostalgy of a warm and joyful atmosphere they have back in the churches at home prompted them to find a way to worship in a church where Vietnamese could be spoken during mass services. Every Sunday after mass they gathered at the Perpetual Help Chapel, located on Bell and Espanola SE, to find solution to their language problem. The place of their meeting came to be known as the international crossroads for the Vietnam in Albuquerque.
Later in the year 1976, some Vietnamese Catholic families living in the neighborhoods of Chama and Alcaza came to attend mass at the Assumption Church. They became acquainted with father John Rebold. Since then more and more Vietnamese Catholics came to the church. Father John Rebold was elated, he warmly welcomed all the Vietnamese Catholic immigrants and celebrated for them a special mass every Sunday at 4 p.m.. Everyone now realized that worshipping God in his maternal language was a necessity not for himself alone but also for young generation that ought to worship God in the traditional and cultural way of his or her ancestors.
Short of having a Vietnamese priest they compromised with having the services done by an American priest with a simultaneous translation by a Vietnamese interpreter. This period was considered as the rejuvenation by all.
By the end of 1980, father John Rebold was transferred to take charge of a small parish in Santa Fe, his mission at the Assumption Church had ended. That Parish was 60 miles away from where the Vietnamese Catholic community lived. They came now to worship at the church the "Our lady of Fatima" where father John Rebold agreed to perform a mass every Sunday for them.
In 1984. once more the Vietnamese Catholic had to move to the Chapel "Knights of Columbus" located on San Mateo Street to attend their weekly Mass. That change lasted about 6 months during which the youth group was very active and enthusiastic. but they did not last longer than the duration of their stay at the "Knight of Columbus." In the meantime every Sunday starting from July 1984, the committee for the building of a Vietnamese church was officially formed and worked to combine manpower, labor, and materials towards the purpose of building a church for the Vietnamese Catholic Community.
In December 1984, on the occasion of the Celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. The Archbishop of Santa Fe officially signed a document consecrating the creation of Vietnamese church named "Our Lady of Lavang." By the decree of the Archdiocese dated Dec. 12, 1984, Father John Rebold was appointed as its official Pastor.
In 1985, the project committee of the church started a campaigning to raise funds. The Vietnamese Catholic Community by this time had to move to "Saint Pius Cafeteria" which is the Archdiocese College located in the area on Louisiana Street. Here all the members of the community actively participated in the project of a church. This period saw the birth of the "Holy Eucharist Group" and the "Blue Army."
By the end of February 1987, Father John Rebold was assigned as pastor of the Saint Francis Xavier Church on Broadway. The Vietnamese community moved to follow him at his new residence while waiting for the construction of a Vietnamese church by the Vietnamese Catholic Community itself. In the meantime, the building project was given the utmost means to reach its realization on both aspects: money and manpower. A campaign of solicitation from door to door and support from over sea donors brought in very positive results with substantial finance to continue and achieve the construction.
On the Fourth of July 1987 the Archbishop of Santa Fe officially presided the ceremony of inauguration of the church and its dedication to Our Lady of Lavang. The period of wandering for Vietnamese Catholic in a foreign land ended and opened a new era for a new Vietnamese Parish. Since then, with the expansion and development which happened in the parish. Members jumped up from 30 families into 200 among them a substantial number of new converts. It was really a rapid rate of increase compared to the time elapsed. Now father John Rebold was very busy than ever, having to perform bis duties as a minister and administrator of the new church along with his incumbent one. He though did not show any feeling of tiredness, on the contrary he was very active when Vietnamese welfare was concerned. But the language barrier that stood between the American priest and his Vietnamese parishioners could not be removed, especially for the Vietnamese elders who had to use sign language to communicate with their priest. Making the mutual understanding is very difficult. Noticing the problem. Father John Rebold asked the Archdiocese to assign a Vietnamese priest to second him with the church affairs. Father Bui Duc Pho was then appointed as deputy Parochial Vicar with the expectation that he would replace Father John Rebold when later he retires.
Here, I would like to tell you something particular about our father Bui Duc Pho.
He arrived to New Mexico under the patronage of father John Rebold, our former pastor. He was Ordained priest in the war time of 1975 and later was appointed as parochial Vicar of the Nang Gu Parish in the diocese of Long Xuyen. During this time, he was arrested and sent to the reeducation camp by the communist's authorities. After that he was appointed as parish Parochial Vicar of Tan Chu. Later in the year of 1976 he was assigned as a Pastor of Thuc Hoa Parish. Still the Communists trying to arrest him once again. Because on their hatred. he escaped from Vietnam. He stayed in Thailand for 3 months then was transferred Philippines. In both places, he started a new life dedicating himself to charitable work, helping Vietnamese refugees in the camps. Finally he chose the USA as his second motherland in order to continue his religious mission.
Coming to America he lived in Houston, Texas, for 6 months and moved to Virginia where he stayed for one year before leaving for New Mexico. He lived a hiding life in New Mexico, very few people know of his presence. The author of this script (me) had a chance to meet him through the introduction of our parish councilor Mr. Nguyen Van Guong. Looking first at him, I could not believe he was a priest, if the councilor Guong had not told me so. Observing him carefully I saw he still had the look of a student, young and energetic, full of aspirations. Through the conversation I had with him, I recognized he was the embodiment of a very determined and dignified person, righteous and honest. It took me some more time to find out later that he was very patient and enduring. He would mingle with people from all walks of life; inside he was a compassionate and forgetful person.
During the time he worked with Father John Rebold, though not receiving officially any mission, he helped father John Rebold as a loyal deputy along with his duties at the parish; he devoted himself to helping new Vietnamese immigrants to settle in the new land. He did it with no religious discrimination at all. He exhorted others to come with him to the airport to welcome the newcomers and took them home. He listened to their needs, shared their worries and joys.
His work was recognized by the archdiocese and on Dec. 10, 1991, the Archbishop officially appointed him as the parish Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Lavang. As the number of Vietnamese immigrants continued to flow in from HO, ODP…..programs, father Bui Duc Pho was vested with the responsibility to assist new Vietnamese immigrants. He threw himself into the new work. After the CSS he was the one who provided the new comers with all their primary needs in the new life. Donating them cooking wares, supper wares, foods, furniture and even postal stamps, everything he could do, he never freaked out. I once had an opportunity to come to his house for some church business. I was surprised that after the routine greetings I wasn't asked to be seated like usual. I looked around and found out there was not one chair in the room. I asked why. he told me that he had just given his last piece of furniture to a newcomer family. Full of admiration and moved by the exceptional generosity of the man, tomorrow I purchased some furniture to replace the ones he had given away. There were times when newcomer did not get shelter from assistance agencies, father Bui Duc Pho offered them lodging in his house until they could be helped. He busied himself all day long with helping people getting shelter, having interpreter and transportation to Human services, social security administration or to hospital. Until today he has sponsored 25 families from Vietnam and from refugee camps. He asked people in the parish to participate in sponsorship and to help newcomers so they wouldn't feel being alone.
Now that the flow of immigrants has slowed down, he dedicated himself to the work of the parish, opening five new classes of Basic Catholic Doctrine for young and adults at the church and at home. He assigned a member of adults, members of the church choir and leaders of the Eucharist Group.
In January 1997, father John Rebold retired. The archbishop of Santa Fe appointed father Bui Duc Pho as the pastor of the parish to continue the work of developing the kingdom of God and leading the Vietnamese community in a foreign land.
A sign of the blessing of our vigilant God to our parish that none of us can deny is the glorious and brilliant achievement that our parish has reached since the day we came here. At this moment more than ever each one of us in the parish understands the meaning of our prayers. our friendship, our solidarity and our determination to turn our dream church into a real one. All of that have gotten the blessings of our Lord. There is no doubt that the building of Our Lady of Lavang church has been completed as a reward to the combination of our hardship. worries, and misery we all have endured through all these years. This is a noble proof that our parish has matured. Our goal, our responsibility is to guide our youngsters in the development of our heritage and the pursuit of the Vietnamese Catholic Church traditions in the future.
This year is the Holy Year 2000, the 200th anniversary of our Mother's apparition in Lavang and the remembrance of our parish. This year earmarks the maturity and the growth of our parish. Our community has lived through 15 years. Time is fast; just someday ago at the beginning of this story we were like a flock of strayed birds searching for the way to our nests, coming from all corners of the horizon. This flock of birds however was born under a human heroic tradition. No matter where they could be, they all share the same "Cultural Cradle" and that is the "Vietnam Mother Love" a love immense as the Pacific Ocean that has been materialized by our beloved church, the church of Our Lady of Lavang. A church that always shines ups with love and compassion and Mother! You are always here with us in spite of the changes up and down brought by the passing time, through the mixing of glory and misery. You are here to bring peace and Eternal Faith to all.
Mother! It is our hope that the church that bears your name will never become a one man's possession. For it belongs to all who accept Our Lady of Lavang Parish as their own parish, a parish without frontier.
By Huy Thuan (1999)