Vietnamese Catholic community marks feast day with parish celebration
By Bill Brewer
The Vietnamese Catholic community in Knoxville marked April 16 in a way befitting its namesake church.
It held a parish-wide celebration in honor of Divine Mercy Sunday.
Bishop Richard F. Stika joined Father Dominic Nguyen and scores of Church of Divine Mercy members to celebrate the first Sunday following Easter, a day that focuses on the gift of mercy and love given through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. As St. John Paul II said, “Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the heart of Christ crucified.”
As faithful followers around the world celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the Catholic Church, the historical significance of the day was noted by priests and bishops because on the second Sunday of Easter of the Jubilee Year 2000, at the Mass for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalksa, Pope John Paul II declared that the Sunday after Easter be called Divine Mercy Sunday.
St. Faustina was a Polish nun who received visions from Jesus, including one of Jesus wearing a white garment with beams of red and white coming from His heart, which came to be known as the image of Divine Mercy.
She wrote in her diary that Jesus said, “I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it. … My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.”
In 2012, Bishop Stika announced the name for the diocese’s first Vietnamese Catholic community: Divine Mercy, as well as its first priest, Father Hoan Dinh. Then, in 2013 Bishop Stika dedicated the Church of Divine Mercy, located at 10919 Carmichael Road in West Knoxville near the intersection of Lovell Road and Pellissippi Parkway.
As membership in the church continued to grow, Bishop Stika elevated Divine Mercy to a parish. And now, a second Vietnamese Catholic community is growing within the diocese.
The St. Faustina Public Association of the Faithful has been worshiping at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga since 2019 and has regular attendance of about 200 people.
Bishop Stika has said the St. Faustina community is working to formally establish a permanent place for Mass, and he hopes the community has a church of its own by 2024. Father Nick Tran serves as chaplain and moderator for the St. Faustina community.
As Bishop Stika helped Divine Mercy Parish celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday with a parish picnic on the church grounds that included music and songs, he was wearing a Divine Mercy pectoral cross from his ordination.
Bishop Stika spoke to the congregation, which is very grateful to him for helping them organize their community into a parish.
“This is one of the great moments of pride in my life, establishing this parish, Divine Mercy. Then, we have this feast day, which is so dear to the Church, to St. John Paul, who loved the Vietnamese people,” Bishop Stika said. “So, I just want to say how proud I am of all of you. God bless you.”
Bishop Stika then hinted at officially installing Father Nguyen as the Church of Divine Mercy pastor.
“What a beautiful celebration. We have young people and not-so-young people. We have families, the family unit. It’s just beautiful. That’s why it was a great thing to start this parish,” Bishop Stika said.
Later this year, Church of Divine Mercy will celebrate its 10th anniversary as a parish.
Bishop Stika noted that Divine Mercy hosted 400 people at Easter Mass, which illustrates the parish’s expansion.
At the parish celebration, he was asked why he chose Divine Mercy as the parish name.
“I chose Divine Mercy because in this world in which we live we all depend on mercy. Without mercy, where would we be? Mercy involves compassion and forgiveness. In Chattanooga, when we get that Vietnamese Catholic parish going, they’ve chosen St. Faustina. Again, a connection to mercy, which is so important. We should be merciful as God is merciful to us,” Bishop Stika said.
Deacon Hieu Vinh, who serves at Church of Divine Mercy, is excited to see the parish thriving.
“We can see that it is growing. More people are coming. Right now, at this point, our registration is about 150 families. Each family is between two and five people, so we are averaging about 500 people for weekly Mass. Many of them have not registered. If they all come together, we are looking at between 600 and 700 people,” Deacon Vinh said.
Deacon Vinh, who served as a deacon at Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville for 13 years before joining Church of Divine Mercy, has been in his new assignment since 2020.
Bishop Stika has announced that he will formally install Father Nguyen as pastor of Divine Mercy Parish during Mass on Sunday, June 11.