A friar of Holy Name Province played a leading role in the development of an historic document approved this past spring by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The document, poised for the implementation phase, is intended to serve as a resource for dioceses and parishes across America to meet the pastoral needs of Asian and Pacific Islanders, the fastest growing Catholic immigrant population in the country.
“Despite being the fastest growing population in the United States, Asian and Pacific Islanders are still invisible in the big-picture population because they assimilate well and quietly,” said Linh Hoang, OFM, who was the principal author of the USCCB-commissioned Asian and Pacific Islanders document titled Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters.
“It is hopeful that this document will bring understanding that Catholicism has been a long tradition within API communities. Some Asian and Pacific Islands were introduced to Catholicism before it came to the U.S.,” said Linh, an associate professor in the religious studies department at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.
“The document draws attention to the gifts that API communities bring to the larger Church,” he said. “The number of API religious vocations is higher than other minority groups – and the role of the family in encouragement of vocations is consistent with the Church’s teaching on family and faith development.”
His own Asia-Pacific roots and immigrant experience provided the impetus for his advocacy of Asian Americans. In 1975, when he was just four years old, his family made a harrowing escape from their native South Vietnam, at the time fleeing a Communist takeover. Linh recalls being crammed in a small fishing boat with his five siblings and parents, and 30 other Vietnamese refugees, and the boat drifting for three days before an American naval ship rescued them.
Ironically, it happened almost 43 years to the day that the USCCB approved the API pastoral response document authored by Linh, who is one of two consultants serving the bishops’ subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs.
Model for Future
“In a way, this is an historic document because it’s the first time a pastoral plan was written, edited and overwhelmingly approved by the bishops. This is precedent-setting, a model for future pastoral plans for other ethnic communities and even the American Catholic Church,” said Linh, who has master’s degrees in theology and divinity from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and a doctorate in theology from Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.
Published articles and presentations at national conferences on Asian-American Catholics put him on the bishops’ radar as an expert in this arena, prompting HNP’s Provincial Minister to grant him permission to serve on the USCCB’s subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs in 2013. It is a role in which he has thrived and relished.
“When I started to explore my own history and background, I became more aware of the wider issues in the Asian-American and Pacific Island communities,” said Linh, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 2008. “Yet, in some way, I fell into this role because of the work I was doing on Asian-American Catholics and race in the Church.”
His association with the USCCB has resulted in API Catholic communities, dioceses and parishes across the U.S. asking him to lecture about Asian-American concerns and API identities at their annual conferences, workshops and other events.
The API pastoral response isn’t the first document Linh wrote for the USCCB. He has authored a series on API Catholics, with the first installment titled Resettling in Place: Vietnamese American Catholics, published in 2014. This writing became the model for two additional books and he is editing three more currently in production.
Among his other work in the API community, Linh, since 2005, has presented a lecture series for the USCCB in dioceses across the country on Asian-American Catholics. He has also given weeklong retreats to young API adults to create new leaders in the community.
Linh has been involved at the United Nations with Caritas International – an organization of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations that promotes peace, economic justice and human welfare in more than 200 countries and territories. He has also worked with the Burmese refugee Catholic community.
Planning Next Phase
In October, he attended a meeting convened by Salt Lake City Bishop Oscar Solis and attended by Asia-Pacific leaders who minister to Catholic APIs.
“This meeting was to plan the next phase – implementation of the pastoral response in the dioceses,” said Linh, who gave a comprehensive presentation about the entire process.
“This document can be used and expanded by different communities,” he added.
Linh, who serves as chairman of HNP’s Asian-American committee, has been a strong advocate in the Province for API communities.
“The Asian and Pacific Islanders’ embrace of harmony is very much in line with the Franciscan spirit of welcoming all people. This harmony is not just with creatures, but also with the larger universe,” said Linh, who offers a course at Siena College that studies Asian-American religious history, and another course on American Catholicism that incorporates the API experience.
“The word harmony is an important aspect of Asian and Pacific Islanders,” Linh said. “APIs find a great connection between themselves and where they live and build their faith. Religion and culture are connected in API communities.”
He said the distinction of calling the document a “response,” as opposed to a “plan,” demonstrates that the bishops recognize that a single directive will not work for all communities.
The document, Linh says, also responds to Pope Francis’ call to evangelization and to understanding and embracing all cultures and traditions. “Francis’ spirit is behind this pastoral response. Faith is not confined to a document or a church building. It must be an encountering among the people,” he said.
Linh’s work on this project is far from over. In addition to taking on an active role in the document’s implementation phase, he is creating curriculum for a class that he will teach on the document at CTU in June 2019. He is also preparing for next February’s presentations at the Mid-Atlantic Congress.
– Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.
- “Asian and Pacific Island Catholic Leaders Support Bishops’ Pastoral Document” — Nov. 15, 2018, National Catholic Reporter
- Linh Ngoc Hoang Franciscan Journey – HNP.org
- “Four Friars Ordained Priests” – May 20, 2009, HNP Today