VIETNAMESE CATHOLICS IN THE UK
* A Brief History
The first Vietnamese refugees within the UK were probably those who were working and studying in this country at the time of the tragic event of 30th April, 1975 in their homeland. Overnight, they were stripped of their Vietnamese citizenship, became stateless people, and had to take on the status of refugees. Joining them at that time were some orphans who had been brought to this country via different humanitarian organisations. Then a short time afterwards came the waves of boat people.
Being confused, like any other displaced people, they gathered together for mutual help. Thankfully, the British Government and many charities immediately stretched out their hands to assist them. Their material as well as their spiritual needs were thus catered for. It was for this reason that the Lavang Centre, based at the Assumption Convent in London, was established in 1976. The name Lavang is a beloved reminder for the Vietnamese Catholics of the persecutions in their country in the XVIII century.
The severe situation in Vietnam drove more people out of their own country with an increasing number of refugees coming to the UK. The Lavang Centre, which worked well in the beginning with some visiting priests, religious, and active parishioners, soon became overloaded. Fortunately in 1980, Fr. Peter Dao Duc Diem, a boatperson himself, was integrated into the Archdiocese of Birmingham. With the presence of a Vietnamese priest in permanent residence, the Vietnamese Chaplaincy at 12 Wye Cliff Road, Birmingham came into being, within the boundary of the parish of St. Francis, Handsworth.
The Vietnamese Catholics with Fr. Peter started to build up their community. Through various cultural and religious links, Fr. Peter realised that there were many Vietnamese Catholics living in London. He immediately sought help from the Church, and was given another centre at Blackheath. During this time of 'getting to know my sheep', he travelled all over the country, from Bournemouth to Glasgow, even to Dublin in Ireland. He also got help from other colleagues and from the newly ordained Vietnamese priests. With the growth of the Vietnamese Catholic Community, the Church gave them a larger centre in Poplar, London, helped them to renovate the Centre in Handsworth, Birmingham, and just recently has transferred another church in Bow Common, London for their use.
At the moment, there are about 3,500 Vietnamese Catholics living in the UK and Ireland, mainly in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Northampton, Portsmouth, and Harlow. A number of Vietnamese priests, religious, and seminarians are also working in different orders and dioceses. Whilst some of the first-generation refugees are finding the language and the culture difficult, their children are growing up and integrating well into British society.
* And Our Visions
We are grateful to all those who have helped us to settle down in this country. A substantial number of young Vietnamese have graduated from universities or colleges and are working to contribute to the welfare of UK society. At the same time, we are also aware of our own identity in this multicultural environment. The first generation, who had suffered wars and experienced hardships in Vietnam, are trying to bridge the gap between old and new with the second generation. We are happy about the achievements gained during the past years, and are looking for more fruits from the younger generations.
Having chosen Britain as our second homeland, we are pleased to live in a multicultural society. It is our wish to contribute to its diversity in harmony and peace with all peoples.
We are lucky to have always felt at home here in this country, worshipping side by side with other peoples in the Catholic Church. We also continue to nourish the good relationship with the Vietnamese of other beliefs, as we all share the same cultural background.
The Vietnamese Catholic Chaplaincy team, who are co-ordinating a lot of pastoral work among the Vietnamese Community in the U.K. and Ireland, are happy to work within the framework of the Church to assist the Vietnamese in their religious and cultural needs.
Please contact us for more information at the following addresses:
* Mgr. Peter Dao Duc Diem
* Fr. Peter Nguyen Tien Dac
FEAST DAY 2000
The Mass on the 3rd
of December, 2000 was specially memorable to the Vietnamese Catholics with the
presence of the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols. Since his enthronement as
Archbishop of Birmingham, he has visited all the deaneries and many other
places, but this was the first time he had been to visit an ethnic community
with so many devout Catholics as the Community of the Vietnamese Martyrs at
Saint Francis Parish, Handsworth. Moreover, the visit of His Grace the
Archbishop coincided with the feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs in the Year of
Jubilee, and also the 20th anniversary of their settlement in the
The majority of Vietnamese
Catholics who came to settle in Handsworth were boat people. Some of them
could have arrived a little earlier, but their community did not officially
start until 1980 when they had their first priest, Fr. Peter Dao Duc Diem, in
permanent residence. A boat person himself, Fr. Peter Diem was then integrated
into the Archdiocese, and given a house at 12 Wye Cliff Road to use as a
pastoral centre. Together with other colleagues, he organised various
religious and cultural activities to help the Vietnamese who came to live in
Since then, the Vietnamese
Catholics regularly have their Sunday Mass at 2.30 pm at Saint Francis Church.
The attendance is normally quite high, but the Mass on the first Sunday of
Advent was exceptional. The church was packed with the Vietnamese Catholics
and their friends. Before Mass, there was a procession of the Martyrs' relics
around the church. When the procession came back to the church, teams of
Vietnamese elders and ladies in their national costumes proceeded to the
sanctuary to offer incense and recite the heroic stories of the Martyrs. As
the Mass went on, everyone was moved with the beautiful and reverent singing
of the community, led by the choir. In the homily, His Grace the Archbishop
said that he was pleased to have the Vietnamese Catholics in his Diocese. He
believed that their tradition would help them to strengthen their faith here
in this country, and hoped that this strong faith would be transferred to
their children. Concelebrating at that Mass were Mgr Thomas Fallon, St.
Francis Parish Priest; Mgr. Peter Dao Duc Diem, Senior Chaplain of the
Vietnamese in the U.K and Ireland; Fr. Peter Dac, Chaplain of the Vietnamese
in Birmingham, Manchester, Northampton, and Nottingham; plus many other
Vietnamese and visiting priests.
After Mass, His Grace the Archbishop and guests were invited to the Vietnamese Pastoral Centre at 10-12 Wye Cliff Road for the reception. Beside the Vietnamese hot foods that everyone wholeheartedly enjoyed, His Grace the Archbishop also had a chat with other Vietnamese community members. He was also guided through the Centre and briefed about its history. This beautiful Centre, since its renovation and expansion two years ago, has served both as a cultural meeting place for the Vietnamese and as their worshipping place. On the premises are a private Chapel, a Shrine dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Vietnam, and some meeting rooms which are also used as classrooms for the children's catechism and Vietnamese language on Saturdays.
Through various cultural, as
well as religious celebrations like this one, the Vietnamese Catholics have
not only confirmed their national identity, but also remarkably contributed to
the rich diversity of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Further information about
the Vietnamese Catholics can be obtained from the Vietnamese Chaplaincy:
Tel: 020-7537-3071 or 01215548082
Fax: 020-7537-1959 or 0121-523-6258