Young Vietnamese Migrant Workers Find Strength in Lenten Practices

About 40 youth leaders came together in Bangkok for a March 17-18 retreat with the theme ‘Service in Love.’

Vietnamese youth leaders attend their annual Lenten retreat March 17 in Thailand.
Vietnamese youth leaders attend their annual Lenten retreat March 17 in Thailand. (photo: CNA/Father Anthony Le Duc)

BANGKOK — Young Vietnamese Catholics living in Thailand came together for a Lenten retreat focused on spiritual nourishment for the challenges of life as migrant workers in a foreign country.

About 40 youth leaders came to the Cristina Retreat Center in Nonthaburi province, located about 13 miles northwest of Bangkok, for a March 17-18 retreat with the theme “Service in Love.”

“This annual retreat takes place during Lent because we find that it is the best time in the liturgical year to encourage the youth leaders to set out time for spiritual renewal,” said Father Anthony Le Duc of the Society of the Divine Word, who is secretary of the Pastoral Committee for Vietnamese Migrants in Bangkok.

“This annual retreat is an opportunity for the group leaders to not only come together to experience the great love and mercy that God has for each of them, but also an opportunity for them to develop friendships, to find joy and comfort in sharing their experiences with one another and to see that they are not alone in their service,” Father Le Duc told CNA March 19.

Father Le Duc was joined by two Dominicans, Father Michael Nguyen Bac and Father Joseph Nguyen Manh Ha, giving talks on Christian love and service. Time for reflection and small-group discussion was also offered.

However, the major focus of the retreat was drawing spiritual strength from the celebration of the Mass in the participants’ native language, Eucharistic adoration and a traditional celebration of the Stations of the Cross.

Father Le Duc explained that the retreat aims “to give support emotionally and spiritually to youth leaders as they serve in their respective groups, finding joy and peace in their sacrifices, despite all the difficulties and challenges that come their way.”

The migrant workers face many challenges as they work and live out their faith. Most of them come from north-central Vietnam and are placed in the garment or restaurant industries in Thailand.

The Pastoral Committee for Vietnamese Migrants in Bangkok works to minister to these migrants, publicizing Masses and other activities under the direction of chaplain Father Manh Ha.

“Thanks to social networking, it has become much easier in recent years to minister to Vietnamese migrant workers living in diaspora,” Father Le Duc explained.

“They have friends who are sharing in the mission, and, above all, they have God, who is blessing and guiding them on the way.”

The participants of the retreat hail from different groups, including the Bangkok Archdiocese and the Ratchaburi and Chonburi provinces. Each of these cell groups contain 50-250 members who come together throughout each month for Mass, spiritual reflections and other activities.

The local groups are intended to foster community and support the young migrant workers as they face the challenges of day-to-day life in a foreign country. The annual Lenten retreat offers an opportunity for broader community. Many of the participants said they draw spiritual strength from the experience.

Concluding the retreat, the youth leaders pledged to learn and grow spiritually, as well as to continue to move forward in evangelization and service as they returned to their respective regions of Thailand.

“I almost was not able to attend this retreat because I could not leave my job at night, but, by God’s grace, I was able to find someone to replace me, and that’s how I was able to come,” Long Nguyen from Ayutthaya group told CNA.

“I am so thankful to God and to the priests for this experience, as I have learned so many things, especially how to have a personal relationship with God and the kind of attitude I ought to have in service.”

Another participant, Phuong Thi Nguyen, from the Bangbuathong group, added, “I am so grateful to God for all the blessings that I have received in these two days, which have been very meaningful to me, and I am already looking to the next opportunity to attend such a retreat again.”