Book Review: Vietnamese-American Catholics

Vietnamese-American Catholics, by Fr. Peter C. Phan, is the first volume in the Pastoral Spirituality series being published by Paulist Press. In addition to being the author of this first book, Fr. Phan is also the series editor. This particular book is a very good introduction to Vietnamese-American Catholics, and it is also a great introduction to the Vietnamese and Vietnam. Fr. Phan introduces the reader to the history of Vietnam from its legendary beginnings to today. He provides, in summary form, the religions of Vietnam and their impact on Vietnamese Catholicism. Each of the various religions practiced in Vietnam reflect a unique Vietnamese form of that particular religion, from Buddhism to Catholicism.

Fr. Phan explains the importance of family in the culture of the Vietnamese people and how American life is changing the Vietnamese who were born in the United States and who know very little of the language of Vietnam or its culture. Some Vietnamese have assimilated into the American culture and given up their culture. Fr. Phan shows that this is only a minority part of Vietnamese-Americans though. It will increase though as time goes on and more and more Vietnamese-Americans lose their connection with the home country just like the Germans, Irish, and other Europeans did. They will become simply “Americans.”

Fr. Phan discusses the various cultural aspects of the Vietnamese — not only the Catholics but of the others too. Vietnamese Catholics could serve as a bridge between Catholicism and other Asian religions since they seem to Christianize some Asian religious practices like ancestor worship, weddings, funerals and others. He discusses creating a Vietnamese Catholic theology which would harmonize better with the Vietnamese and their culture than European cultural religious aspects do. He also shows how the Vietnamese are different from other Catholic groups in the United States.

Fr. Phan introduces the history of the Church in Vietnam. He discuses the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints and how ancestor veneration plays into this. He also discusses the future of Vietnamese Catholicism. Vietnamese Catholics provide many vocations to the Church and it is hoped they will continue to do so.

Fr. Phan provides a bibliography on things Vietnamese. His book is meant as an introduction into the study of the Vietnamese and Vietnam. It is highly recommended for those interesting in learning more about Vietnamese Catholics. This book will guide the reader to other sources. Maybe this book will encourage others to write on this topic. I look forward to seeing the other books in this series.

(Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., writes from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.)

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