This Saturday, Oct. 9, will be a historic and memorable day in the history of our archdiocese and our Southeast Asian Vicariate. It will be my privilege to dedicate the new vicariate church of Our Lady of Lavang during the celebration of the Eucharist beginning at 10 a.m. We are honored that Archbishop William Levada will return to the vicariate that day to preside at the Eucharist. I have also invited Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, Calif., the U.S. diocese with the largest Catholic Vietnamese population. This will be a day of true joy and pride for all God's people who worship at the vicariate.

The history of the vicariate traces its origins back to the year 1975. At that time, the growing Vietnamese Catholic population was organized into a faith community under the direction of the Rev. Vincent Minh, a Redemptorist priest. The Vietnamese Catholics had been helped by a number of parishes in the Portland area. The most concentrated area was around St. Rose Parish. There Father Edward Zenner, the parish council and the St. Vincent de Paul Society extended themselves to provide special assistance to the newcomers. Catholic Charities provided some of the necessary human and material resources to make the apostolate effective.

In the beginning, the Vietnamese community had a bi-lingual Mass on Sundays during which they were able to share their hymns and songs with the people of St. Rose Church. But by the next year, a special Vietnamese Mass was added to the schedule. People drove as far as 30 miles to participate in this celebration of the Eucharist.

By 1978 two Vietnamese sisters of the Congregation of the Adorers of the Holy Cross helped the people begin a program of religious education for the children. Presently more than 800 youngsters participate in the vicariate religion classes. Every year many Vietnamese people of Buddhist tradition have been welcomed into the Catholic Church through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program. Three Vietnamese priests whose roots can be traced to the vicariate now serve as archdiocesan priests. Other young women and men have joined religious communities.

Nowadays there are Vietnamese Catholics in many of our parishes, but the vicariate is still home for most of them. When the vicariate was officially established in 1981 with Father Vincent Minh as vicar, arrangements were made with the Sisters of the Holy Child to make their Holy Child Academy, which had not been used for nearly two years, as the center of the Vietnamese apostolate. It was an ideal location because it was near where many of the Vietnamese parishioners lived and was right across the street from St. Rose Church where the community was accustomed to gather.

Over the years, many people have been significant partners in promoting and supporting the ministry of the vicariate. Father Morton Park, as director of Catholic Charities, was very active in helping the community make its home in Portland. Archbishop Cornelius Power officially established the vicariate in 1981 at a time when the Southeast Asian population was growing significantly in western Oregon. He was especially concerned that the people of the archdiocese assist these newcomers from Southeast Asia 'to adjust to their new homes and environment.' One of his close collaborators in this undertaking was the thenñAuxiliary Bishop Paul Waldschmidt, who endeared himself greatly to our Southeast Asian friends. I was told that, as he was dying, the Vietnamese Sisters were singing religious songs in the corridor outside his hospital room.

All these efforts, of course, were in keeping with the church's traditional outreach to immigrants of every age from every place. When the Southeast Asian immigrants began coming to Oregon in such great numbers, more than any state except California, they received church assistance ranging from resettlement to daily Mass. It was not always easy to bring this vast population together as one community, since some of them had been adversaries in Southeast Asia. But here they were all refugees together, and they viewed their differences as minor compared to the similarities in culture, faith and problems. The success of their resettlement here in Oregon is due in no small way to the efforts of our Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program.

Another important participant in the dedication ceremonies on Saturday will be Sister Mary Kim Phuong, the long-time Superior of the Sisters Adorers of the Holy Cross here in Portland. Not only did she develop the vicariate's effective and extensive religious education program, but she also has been the Lord's instrument in attracting many other women to join the community. She and the sisters continue to provide the people of the vicariate with the evangelical witness and spiritual resources so essential for growth in faith.

The dedication of a new church is a significant milestone in the history of any faith community, but especially for one that has grown so dramatically and spiritually as has our Southeast Asian Vicariate in less than 25 years. The church is named in honor of Our Lady of Lavang. Lavang had become a holy place for Vietnamese Catholics some 200 years ago. It was a place where Christians in the central part of Vietnam were provided with a secure hiding place during the time of persecution. There they prayed together, and the rosary was their favorite prayer. There Our Lady appeared to them in an old banyan tree, her hand holding a baby. They recognized her as Mary, the mother of Jesus. She consoled them in their sufferings and encouraged them to be witnesses for their faith.

The parishioners of St. Rose have donated a new icon of Our Lady of Lavang to the vicariate. Father Richard Hunegar commissioned Martha Williams, an experienced iconographer, to paint the icon of Our Lady of Lavang.

This weekend we pray joyfully and gratefully with our Southeast Asian sisters and brothers as they dedicate their new church for worship. The ground of the vicariate has already been made holy by the shared faith and labors of all those who have made this oasis of spirituality and hospitality available for Southeast Asian newcomers to the Portland area. With Father Minh and his people, we all shall pray this Saturday, 'Here may prayer, the Church's banquet, resound through heaven and earth as a plea for the world's salvation.'