Vietnamese American Catholicism

Depicted here is Thanh Thai Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church over the Diocese of Orange which encompasses the entirety of Orange Country located in Southern California. Nguyen became one of the first and only known bishops to be of Vietnamese-American descent in the United States. He was born in 1953 in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and fled to the United States in 1978 during the Vietnam War. Like many other Vietnamese Americans, Nguyen was a boat person along with his family where they were refugees in the Philippines and eventually resettled in Texas, US. There, he helped foster various Vietnamese-American Catholic communities as a priest until becoming bishop.

While Catholicism and other Christian denominations are steadily growing within the Vietnamese-American communities, it is important to recognize that a plurality of them continue to practice Buddhism, the predominant religion in Vietnam. With a multitude of Buddist temples and Christian churches sprawled out across the United States, Vietnamese-American culture has evidently grown to incorporate elements that both embody America and Vietnam that gives rise to a unique fusion of traditions.

Vietnamese Catholicism has also existed in Vietnam as beginning in the 17th century, Catholic missionaries from Europe would spread Catholic Christianity to various Vietnamese populations. Additionally, many refugees to America already had come from Catholic villages in Vietnam. These trends along with America’s Christian foundations made it so by the mid-1990s, approximately a quarter of all Vietnamese American people were practicing Catholicism. This popularity gave rise to the Vietnamese Catholic Congress which was created in 1993 and was a gathering of clergy members that meet up to establish goals for spreading Catholicism to the Vietnamese-American communities. With such growth in Christianity, it becomes ever more important to consider the implications that arise when the relationship between the Buddhist and Christian religions is examined against the backdrop of the culture of the United States as differences in religious practice may be a source of tension between Vietnamese-Americans.¬†

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