Greenville, S.C., May 13, 2012 (CNA) - Franciscan Father David Phan made a promise to God at the age of 16. He was on a crowded boat with dozens of other refugees from his home country of Vietnam, suffering from seasickness and thirst.
It was 1985, and he was fleeing the poverty and persecution at home to seek a better life.
“I promised God that if I survived, I would dedicate my life to serve His holy will,” he said.
Years later, after studying and working in the United States long enough to bring his entire family here from Vietnam, Father Phan gave away all his worldly possessions and kept that promise by joining the Franciscans.
He was ordained in 2010 and served in a New Jersey parish before coming to South Carolina in 2011. Currently, he is parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, S.C. and coordinates Vietnamese ministry from his office at Greenville’s Our Lady of the Rosary Church, home to one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the diocese. Each weekend he travels to Rock Hill, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and other cities as needed to celebrate Mass in Vietnamese.
The hours are long and he puts many miles on his small car, but the work is worth it, he says, because he is sharing the love of God with people who need it.
“I asked to come here and work with the Vietnamese because I knew there was a need,” he said. “I have a passion for working with immigrants because I know they have struggled like I did with language barriers, with understanding how to integrate into American culture while still having a Vietnamese identity, and they still want to continue to worship in their own language.”
Faith has always been central in his life. Before he was born, his parents relocated to South Vietnam to escape persecution against Catholics in the North. He was the second of 10 children raised in a devout home, and said he first thought about becoming a priest while still in grade school.
That dream was put on hold for decades. The Phan family, like millions of others in South Vietnam, faced hardships and poverty after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Communist workers at one point forced them from their home, took their belongings and sent his father to prison.
One thing symbolized all they had lost: “My mom and dad had a cassette player they would play all the time, and one of the men stole it and used it at his house,” he said. “I was 12 or 13 at the time and when I was walking to church, I would pass his house and hear him playing music on that cassette player. I decided then I would like to escape somewhere I could find peace.”
By 1985, his mother knew he wanted to leave the country, but begged him not to go because she feared he wouldn’t survive. He left with eight others and swam to a boat. On the harrowing journey to a Philippine refugee camp that followed, he made his commitment to God.
Father Phan’s older brother also escaped, and he eventually followed him to Oregon, where Catholic Charities placed the teen, who spoke no English, in foster care. He went from home to home during those years, sometimes living with families who mistreated him. There was violence: one of his foster siblings killed their foster mother.
Despite the difficulties, Father Phan learned English, completed high school and started living on his own at age 18.
Hard work brought success. He completed an engineering degree at the University of Oregon, found a well-paying job with an electronics company, and then worked as a stock trader for several years. In 1993, he and his brother brought his parents and eight siblings to live in the United States.
Father Phan spent seven years helping them settle and reconnecting with them after so many years apart.
“I had two brothers who hadn’t even been born when I left the country,” he said. “I wanted to get to know them and help my family to assimilate, to learn what is good about American culture and also keep their Vietnamese culture and integrity.”
By 2000, Father Phan knew his family was doing well and it was time to keep that promise he made so long ago. He joined the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province in New York City because of the order’s commitment to help the poor, immigrants and other marginalized people.
He joined three other siblings in religious life: two became religious sisters and a brother is a Franciscan priest in California.
This priest who overcame so many challenges said he wants to stay in South Carolina as long as he is needed, to strengthen the Vietnamese community and help others grow in their faith.
“In ministry, you have to love the people you work with, to step in their shoes and walk with them,” he said. “That’s what serving is about.”
Posted with permission from The Miscellany, official newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.
Rome, Italy, May 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict recently welcomed Bishop-designate Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who will soon be the newest and the tallest member of the U.S. episcopate.
“I’m 6 feet 8 inches and I believe from what I’ve heard from the other bishops that I will be the tallest bishop in the United States,” Bishop-designate Parkes told CNA in Rome prior to his papal audience May 11.
“As far as the gift that it is, I suppose people remember you first of all and you tend to draw attention to yourself, so I try to use that in a very good way and very positive way to serve God’s people.”
The towering cleric will be installed at bishop of Pensacola Tallahassee on June 5. This week he is making his first ever “ad limina” pilgrimage to Rome and his first ever papal audience at bishop-designate.
“I want to assure the Holy Father that I will be faithful to him and to the teaching of our Church and to let him know that there is great hope in the United States,” Bishop Parkes said.
Originally from New York’s Long Island, the 48-year-old bishop moved to Florida in his teens to attend college at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Interestingly, his alma mater is now in his new diocese. He was ordained for the Diocese of Orlando in 1999.
He described this week in Rome as a “great blessing” as well as an opportunity to grasp how the administration of the Vatican operates.
“I had the privilege of studying here in Rome for four years from 1996 to 2000 here at the North American College,” he said, “but I never really had a chance to visit the various congregations and councils that help the Church to function.”
He was particularly inspired by a visit to the new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization which was founded by Pope Benedict in 2010 and is led by the Italian Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella.
“We had a very good discussion there with the Archbishop Fisichella,” Bishop-designate Parkes added.
He summed up his idea of what the new evangelization is as “finding modern ways to communicate the lasting truths of our faith” by using “the current social media that people are looking to for information to spread the good news and to evangelize about our Catholic faith.”
Denver, Colo., May 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On May 16 the Catholic Church remembers Saint Simon Stock, a twelfth- and thirteenth-century Carmelite monk whose vision of the Virgin Mary is the source of the Brown Scapular devotion.
Simon was born during 1165 in the English county of Kent. He is said to have been strongly devoted to God from his youth, to the point that he left home at age 12 to live in the forest as a hermit. Following the customs of the earliest monks, he lived on fruit and water and spent his time in prayer and meditation.
After two decades of solitary life in the wilderness, he returned to society to acquire an education in theology and become a priest. Afterwards, he returned to his hermitage until the year 1212, when his calling to join the Carmelite Order – which had only recently entered England – was revealed to him.
During the early 13th century, a group of monks in the Holy Land sought formal recognition as a religious order. Their origins were mysterious, and by some accounts extended back to the time before Christ, originating in the ministry of the Biblical Prophet Elijah.
The Carmelites’ ascetic, contemplative lifestyle was combined with ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is she who is said to have appeared to Simon Stock, telling him to leave his hermitage and join the order that would soon be arriving with the return of two English Crusaders.
Impressed by the Carmelites’ rigorous monasticism, Simon joined in 1212 and was sent to complete a course of studies at Oxford. Not long after his return to the order, he was appointed its vicar general in 1215. He defended the Carmelites in a dispute over their legitimacy, later resolved by the Popes.
In 1237, Simon took part in a general chapter of the Carmelites in the Holy Land. Facing persecution from Muslims, a majority of the monks there decided to make their home in Europe – including Simon’s native England, where the order would go on to prosper for several centuries
After becoming the general superior of the Carmelites in 1247, Simon worked to establish the order in many of Europe’s centers of learning, including Cambridge, Oxford, and Paris.
Late in his life, Simon Stock reportedly received a private revelation about the Brown Scapular, a monastic garment worn by Carmelites.
“To him,” an early chronicle states, “appeared the Blessed Virgin with a multitude of angels, holding the Scapular of the Order in her blessed hands, and saying: ‘This will be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire.’”
This vision was the source of the Brown Scapular devotion – a tradition which involves the wearing of an adapted version of the garment, along with certain spiritual commitments, by lay Catholics as well as priests and religious.
St. Simon Stock died in France in 1265, 100 years after his birth. He has been publicly venerated since the 15th century.
Florence, Italy, May 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI went to the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance to call upon every Catholic to once again play a full part in renewing today’s culture.
“Be ferment in society, be present as Christians, be active and coherent,” said the Pope during morning Mass in the town of Arezzo in the region of Tuscany May 13.
“The whole Church is sent out into the world to preach the Gospel and salvation. But it is always God’s initiative; he calls us to different ministries, so that each one plays his proper role for the common good.”
Pope Benedict was making a one day visit to the Tuscan towns of Arezzo, La Verna and Sansepolcro. In Arezzo he offered Mass in a local park before a congregation numbering in the tens of thousands.
The Pope noted that the area was the birthplace of “great Renaissance personalities” such as the poet Petrarch and painter and architect Varasi. Such men had played “an active role in affirming that concept of man which left its mark on the history of Europe, drawing strength from Christian values.”
Given these historical precedents, the Pope asked, “what vision of man are we proposing to new generations?” He suggested that an invitation to live God’s love towards all people should see a new Christian culture embody “distinctive values” including “solidarity, attention to the weak, respect for the dignity of all.”
This is particularly manifested, he said, in the “defense of human life, from its beginning to its natural end” and “the defense of the family, through laws that are just and protect the weakest elements.”
Later in the day the Pope travelled on to the town of La Verna to visit the Chapel of the Wounds. It was there that St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata in the year 1224.
With Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in the congregation at morning Mass, the Pope offered the “shining witness of St. Francis” as a guide to how Christians should cope with the current economic downturn in Italy and beyond.
“Since the remotest times, attention to others has moved the Church to show concrete signs of solidarity with those in need, sharing resources, promoting simpler lifestyles, going against an ephemeral culture which has disappointed many and determined a profound spiritual crisis,” he said.
At the conclusion of Mass the Pope led the congregation in the Eastertide Marian prayer, the Regina Coeli. He prayed that each pilgrim would “continue serving God and man according to the teaching of Jesus, the shining example of your saints and the tradition of your people” and he commended them to the “maternal protection of Our Lady of Comfort, whom you love and venerate, accompany and sustain you in this task.”
The Pope’s final stop in the day was the town of Sansepolcro to make a pilgrimage to the famous crucifix known as the Santo Volto or Holy Face which resides in the local cathedral. The artwork is an unusual carved wooden crucifix made from a single walnut log between the eighth and ninth centuries.
Pope Benedict XVI will return to the Vatican later Sunday evening.
Rome, Italy, May 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Nearly 7,000 pro-life advocates marched from Rome's Colosseum to St. Peter's Square on Sunday for the city's inaugural March for Life.
"We've never seen anything like this in Rome, capital of Christianity, city of the Pope, city to which all Catholics in the world look," march co-organizer Juan Miguel Montes said of the event.
American Cardinal Raymond L. Burke led a group of priests in the march. He said it brought back memories for him of "so many marches" in America.
"They serve a very important function," he told CNA, "first to give a witness in our whole country to the inviolable dignity of human life but second, to awake consciences to what is happening."
The cardinal was "pleased" that such an event has finally reached Rome.
"I can only imagine that it will grow and increase every year and that it will be an important part in Italy, as it is in America, for the restoration of the respect for the dignity of human life," he said.
The march was officially the second annual Italian national March for Life. The 2011 event was held in northern city of Desenzano, on Lake Garda.
This year's initiative brought together 150 associations and a colorful mix of all ages and nationalities.
Seminarian Garrett Nelson, 23, of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana was on hand with a group of peers from Rome's Pontifical North American College. For him, it was like the March for Life in the U.S., but with an extra quality.
"It's been on a more universal level," said Nelson. "You see the world coming together to defend the dignity of human life and how important that is. It's really exciting to see the young and the youth movement of the Church growing up and defending the dignity of human life."
Minnesota-born Sister Compassionis from the Servants of the Lord religious family joined around 50 of her fellow sisters for the march. "It's fantastic to be here in Italy for the first national march for life in Rome," she told CNA. "To be a part of it as the Church and to be a testimony for life - especially on Mother's Day - to be here to stand for the unborn and the women who have been hurt by abortion."
In addition to a strong American presence, the Italian core was joined by Germans, French and Hungarians. With enormous flags in hand, a Polish delegation brought up the rear of the more than half-mile long string of marchers. Tibetan Buddhists even turned out to protest forced abortions in their homeland.
"What we've seen here is that there are always more young people in favor of life," said the co-organizer Montes, a representative of the group Voglio Vivere (I Want to Live). He put the average age of marchers at "well under 40." He noted that around four decades ago, laws allowing abortion started being passed by Western governments.
"It's the generation that should be ‘pro-abortion for education and culture," he said of the youthful turnout. "In reality, it is ‘anti-abortion’ and it is expressing itself in occasions like this one."
The march was just a part of activities this weekend in Rome. A day earlier, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum university hosted a day-long congress under the theme "Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world." Following the congress, Cardinal Burke led Eucharistic Adoration at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
As the capital city of Italy, protests are commonplace in Rome. For many, a pro-life march was a long time coming.
Famiglia Domani (Family Tomorrow) leader Prof. Roberto De Mattei said the march is "very important" because "it is the first time in Italy that there has been such an important demonstration for life and against abortion" since the abortion law of 1978.
At least five million abortions have been carried out since Italy's Law no. 194 was passed.
A man who identified himself as Vito of Vicenza, Italy's Con Cristo per la Vita (With Christ for Life) group was among the day's marchers. Along with other members of the association, he leads weekly prayers in front of 50 abortion hospitals across the country. The nation, he said, needs to be more aware of the problem of abortion.
"In Europe, it is said that this is a 'social achievement,'" said Vito. "It's actually its greatest shame. I give a big welcome to these protests. Let's do everything we can to give testimony to life, to give a future to Italy and Europe."
Organizers told CNA that they hope to make the Rome edition of the March for Life an annual event. In the future, however, it could be held on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.