From the Pastor: Bid Farewell to the Vietnamese Mission
Next week St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission will celebrate their last Masses at Epiphany. They recently purchased a Lutheran church compound, which includes a church building, a gymnasium with an indoor basketball court (plenty of room as a social hall), and a school building. They have been spending countless hours fixing it up, inside and out, to make it their new home. The one thing lacking on this property, which is located in the Town and Country area of west Tampa near Incarnation Catholic Church is a rectory. So Fr. Chien has asked to continue to stay at our rectory until they can build a new house for him next to the new church. When they leave they will be taking many objects and items with them which will be of use in their new church so that they don’t have to start completely from scratch. Although I have offered to round up some volunteers to help them move, they have assured me that they can--and want to--do it by themselves. So say goodbye and say a prayer for them!
What will this mean for Epiphany? There are some good and some bad aspects to losing them. They have been here for a long time and, although there used to be some interaction between the two communities, ever since the primary Masses and sacraments of the parish began being celebrated in the Traditional Rites, there has been very little to no overlap. There were no more bilingual “combined” Masses, for instance, for Christmas or Easter, since the forms of the Mass were incompatible with each other, where previously only the language was different. So, of necessity, there have been constant tradeoffs between “good” Mass times and “bad” Mass times, with each group switching each year. Now both communities can set their own schedule! Both communities had also grown so large that neither of us could fit in the social hall for a large gathering, let alone invite the other one to join in the celebration. It hadn’t been so difficult when both groups were small. In their new place, they now have a large hall and we will try to figure out how and where to build a new, larger one ourselves! But for now, at least there is no competition for the limited space we have. Sundays the classrooms will also be available for us to use before, during, and after our Masses. Back when Epiphany had no children (it seems impossible, yet there was only one child in the parish when I arrived 5 years ago, a three year old girl whose family left shortly thereafter), St. Joseph got used to having all of the classrooms to themselves. It was difficult for them to adjust to the fact that we needed the space for our children, too. Now we won’t be in each other’s way.
But we will also have to pick up the entire bill for such things as electricity, maintenance, and staff, all of which we currently split with St. Joseph. We will also have to take over things that their parishioners used to do around the grounds. Many of the plants and flowers were tenderly cared for by them, and I am sure we will find out many more things only once nobody is doing them anymore! Of course, they are in the same situation as we are as far as all of this goes, and they will have to deal with us not being there to assist them, either!
Lest I forget something very important, I must make sure to mention that they will also be getting a new name! They will now be called, “St. Joseph Vietnamese Parish.” They will no longer be a mission but a parish! Most people won’t think much of that but it is a statement of trust on behalf of the Bishop that they can make it on their own without needing any assistance from others. (They still won’t have any parish boundaries but will instead be independent of but within the parish boundaries of Incarnation, meaning that St. Joseph’s priest will not be responsible for the spiritual well-being of any of the neighborhood people, nor have to make sick calls at the local hospital or nursing homes, but will be solely responsible for those attending St. Joseph parish.) They will no longer be “children” but “adults” in a manner of speaking, which I hope will be well appreciated by everyone in their community. As for us, like proud parents, we can shed a few happy tears as we watch them go, with mixed emotions, but mostly with happiness for them as we wish them well in their new parish home and new responsibilities.
As for our future, we are working on a temporary fix to the air conditioning problem and have had a couple of meetings with civil engineers and others to see about what we can build on our property, how we can expand to meet our increased needs due to our current and future growth, and plan accordingly. Of course, a lot depends on the Bishop and what his plans are for us and for the diocese, especially as so many parishes are struggling right now. Building projects may not even be on his radar for a while. For now, we are growing and have become a respite for the weary, a source of hope for the disheartened, an inspiration for the young-at-heart, and a light in a world of darkness. No matter what the future holds, since God is in charge, great things await the people of Epiphany!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka