By Theresa Carson
When Father Viet Quoc Hoang was a teenager, he spent a year in virtual social silence. He conversed with his family but few others. Today, the newly ordained priest holds Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification and speaks four languages.
Father Viet, now 34, moved to the United States with his parents when he was 13. Not knowing a word of English at the time, he listened and pushed himself to learn the language of his new home. He credits his English-as-a-Second-Language teacher for helping him make it through.
Following her example, he does the same for others—teaching language and helping others understand the Scriptures. Last year, he got practice delivering homilies as a transitional deacon at Queenship of Mary in Joliet, Ill. Father Viet, who professed vows in 2013, said that preparing homilies is not easy for him, and yet he thoroughly enjoys preaching.
He expounds upon the practical side of faith. He examines how he lives out his own faith, and he encourages other to do the same. In return, the parishioners give him feedback, both compliments and constructive criticism.
“When I left Vietnam, my Vietnamese was at a seventh-grade level,” he said. “That’s why I told the people in Joliet, forgive me if when I speak, I don’t say something clearly. Let me know because my Vietnamese is a bit limited.”
As a deacon, he taught catechism to middle school students. He focused on the creeds. He prepared them for future conversations about the Catholic faith. If they can recite and understand either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, then he feels that his mission there has been accomplished.
“That’s the foundation of our faith,” he said “I want to prepare them so that they can answer questions. I want them to own their faith.”
He wanted to give them the confidence in their faith that he has. In 2011, Father Hoang graduated from Edgewood College founded by the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters in Madison, Wis., with a degree in religious studies and a minor in philosophy. The following month, he entered the Society of the Divine Word’s Associate Program.
The seeds of a priestly vocation had been in his heart for a while. As a young adult, he served as a mentor for youth at his parish, Blessed Sacrament, in Madison, Wis. When he asked his pastor for a letter of recommendation, his pastor asked why the young Viet hadn’t considered the Dominican order. Even then, Father Viet knew that the Divine Word charism was for him.
“I love to travel, meeting new people, learning new cultures and trying new foods,” he said. “I love learning language even though I don’t have the capacity to learn as quickly as others, I still have the desire and love for it.”
Despite his humble evaluation of his language skills, he speaks Vietnamese, English, Spanish and Guarani, the language of the indigenous people of Paraguay.
Father Viet spent two years in Paraguay for his Cross-Cultural Training Program. Of learning Spanish, he said, “It was rough at first. I wanted to get the first experience of learning Spanish in Paraguay [instead of taking classes in the United States]. Most classes are in Mexican Spanish, so he waited to learn in the Paraguay.”
When he arrived in Paraguay, he had a choice of places to reside—the provincial’s residence, the postulate house or the novitiate. When he visited the novitiate in Paraguay, he met candidates from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador and Chile and realized that if he lived there he would be exposed to various styles of Spanish.
When learning, he had the option of living at the provincial house, postulate house or the novitiate. From time to time, he went to the postulate house to converse with the candidates and to practiced Guarani.
Once he learned enough Spanish, his superior sent him into the missions to work at a parish with a school. The youth helped him to further his language skills.
“They taught me a lot. It was hard at first to get to know them. When youth speak, they speak faster than adults. They shorten sentences. It’s just like English. For a foreigner like me, it was rough,” he said with an easy laugh.
“It was challenging, but I opened myself to learn. I thought, ‘If they laugh at me, then so be it.’ It’s no problem to me.”
His first assignment as a priest will take him back to Paraguay. He said that he gladly will return to Paraguay to serve the people.
“The country is poor, but the people are hospitable,” he said. “They open their place, their house and most of all they open their hearts. That’s what draws me.”
Before heading back to South American, Father Viet, his parents and sister will travel to Central Vietnam in June. While in his ancestral village of Phuóc Vinh, Father Viet will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving. Father Tran Thuong Uyen, pastor of the parish in Phuóc Vinh, will deliver the homily.
“Our mysterious God speaks to us in prayer, and I’m glad,” said Father Viet.