Father Dom stands in the center aisle of the Church of the Vietnamese Martyrs, now fully restored, post-Katrina. The sanctuary
was flooded, but only one of its beautiful stained glass windows broke, even though he just had time to tape them―not board
them up―before the hurricane.
When we visited with Father Dom in Biloxi, he sang the beautiful “Prayer of St. Francis” in Vietnamese. We asked if he knew “Amazing Grace.” He flashed a big smile and exclaimed, “Oh, yes!”
Revelers gather with Father Dom for a dragon parade on the church lawn. The dragon parade culminates with the explosion of so many fireworks that the resulting cloud of smoke covers the churchyard.
“The dragon, in China, is like an American eagle,” Father Dom explains, “a higher creature, close to heaven, powerful.”
As Father Dom reflects on Katrina’s aftermath, his memories invariably take him back to the horrible war years. To escape from South Vietnam, he spent five days and nights in a crowded fishing boat on the China Sea. The only navigational instruments were fishermen onboard who read the stars as best they could. “Better to die than be caught,” he told fearful fellow passengers. And so he wasn’t afraid of Katrina, he said, because he knew what to do: Look past the storm’s destruction to see a brighter day―and reach out to frightened, hurting people with kindness and compassion.
During the Tet celebration, parishioners prepare food to raise money for the church. So popular is this gathering that even folks who aren’t members of the church mark their calendars.
For the younger set, the keys to celebrating are Silly String and designer duds. Kids chase each other with the former, pausing only to swirl around Father Dom like kittens chasing each other at his feet. (Teens don’t have time for Silly String fights. They’re too busy texting and making plans with their friends.)
You get a whole new sense of the word “freedom” when you see the bright faces of young Vietnamese at Father Dom’s church. Many of them are here because their grandparents found the courage and faith to climb aboard a small, crowded boat and make the journey to a new life for future generations.