Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Bishop Skylstad concludes Asia trip with visit to Vietnam

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the sept. 10, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: Bishop Skylstad was in Asia for 16 days last month, first attending the meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) in Manila, related in the Aug. 20 edition of the Inland Register, and then on to visit Vietnam. He sent this report of his Vietnam visit. He was accompanied by Ginny Farris, a staff member of the Asian desk of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., and in Vietnam was joined by Father Joe Hiên, a name of Vietnam who is a priest of the Spokane Diocese, serving as pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Spokane.)

The last two days of the Asian Bishops’ Conference in Manila were taken up with group discussions on the conference’s final document. Several bishops wanted to give reports on their particular situations. Those reports were most interesting.

Several mentioned limitations on the practice of religion in their countries. Some have just started the founding of Churches from scratch, such as in Uzbekistan. A bishop in Japan said they are dealing with approximately 40,000 suicides a year. Bishops from Mongolia and Nepal also shared their own challenges.

In general the weather was hot to very hot but our meeting room and the hotel were air conditioned.

On Sunday morning, Aug. 16, Ginny Farris and I flew to Ho Chi Minh City to begin the visit to Vietnam for a week. Cardinal Man of Saigon is a most gracious man. He asked me to give the homily in the Cathedral at 5 p.m. It was hot, especially wearing my house cassock under the vestments! The cathedral was packed. The next morning we visited a couple of convents (The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres). They are getting a lot of novices, mostly from the countryside. On Monday morning, I also met with the Cardinal and the president of the Vietnamese Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, the Diocese of Da Lat. In the evening, Bishop Kahn, the auxiliary of Saigon, asked to help him with confirmations that evening in one of the local parishes. We were met with a marching band as we came into the parish grounds. It was also hot, but lots of fans in the Church. It too was packed.

On Tuesday morning Cardinal Man wanted to show me a couple of parishes south of Saigon in the Mekong Delta region, where he grew up. The traffic was something else! There are many more motor bikes than cars on the road. I think you can best describe the flow of traffic as gradually melding together. At one intersection roads were coming in from five different directions, guided by neither policeman nor traffic lights. It seems to work. The Cardinal said there two main rules about driving: “Don’t hit anyone and don’t let anyone hit you.”

On Tuesday evening we flew to Danang and arrived at 11 p.m., 2.5 hours late. There was a big delegation at the airport, including an especially lively youth choir. Bishop Joseph Tri, who I’ve met before, is the Bishop of Danang. He couldn’t have been more gracious. The next morning we went to the world heritage site, My Son, about 40 miles out of the city. On the way back we visited a couple of parishes, the place of the first martyr in the country. He asked me to preach in the evening (Father Jo Hiên my translator). It must have been over 100 degrees in the more-than-packed church.

I noticed when entering with the bishop for Mass what appeared to be swallows flying high in the cathedral. I was told they are very special in the cathedral because they build nests between the ceiling and the roof. These nests are used for birds’ nest soup (I guess the saliva is what gives the flavor). The sale of these nests enhances the cathedral budget to the tune of $100,000 a year. I mentioned that this morning to Father Steve Dublinski, the rector of our own Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, when I talked with him on SKYPE. He didn’t seem to be too excited about the idea.

Early yesterday morning, we left early for Hue (a four-hour drive). The countryside and beaches are really beautiful. We drove actually north of Hue about 30 miles to the shrine of Our Lady of Lavang. The apparition occurred there over 200 years ago. The shrine is just off the main road, but in a cell phone call, Archbishop The of Danang wanted me to wear my finest. So a mile from the shrine, we got out in the shade next to a contented cow, and I put on my black cassock and red sash. Most of you know I don’t wear it that often. And it was hot – about 104 degrees. There probably were about 1,500 people at the shrine for Mass in the temporary structure. There were some fans. The archbishop asked me to preach there too, but by the end of Mass I was soaking wet. Then lunch there and back into Hue for a grand reception at the cathedral (another band and official greeting). Archbishop The also wanted me to give a talk to about 500 priests and Sisters. A question and discussion period afterwards was most interesting. It was good for them to see Ginny describe her work and the work of the USCCB’s international office. In the evening (last night, as I write this) we took a late evening cruise on the river. Some of the Sisters were with us and it was a delightful evening.

We left Phu Bai Airport this morning for Hanoi and arrived around at 11. After lunch, we had a meeting with the American Ambassador here, Michael Michalak. Conveniently on his coffee table was one of those picture books on Washington State. He says he and his wife want to retire in Red-mond. Later in the afternoon, we went to the offices of Catholic Relief Services, where we met staff and talked about the projects. By the way, one of the significant efforts here is to deal with unexploded ordinance left over from the war. An especially troublesome area has been the part of the country where we were yesterday, near Lavang.

Tonight we will go out to dinner with Father Hiên’s sister, Teresa,and her husband, on one of the lakes here in the central part of the city. The traffic here is quite heavy, the weather very hot, but everyone seems to make it work. In the morning I will have breakfast with the local archbishop from here. On Sunday we will be visiting some of the area northwest of the city. Father Hiên has been invaluable with his contacts and his background knowledge of the situation here. Ginny and her diplomatic background – she was 30 years with the State Department – also has been a tremendous help.

Blessings to all, and much peace.

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