Last week, August 3-7, six of us—Sisters Ana Gonzalez, June Fitzgerald, Mai-Dung Nguyen, Patricia Connick, Phuong Vu, and Tram Bui—packed a van and a car full of vocation materials then headed to Carthage, Missouri for the 43rd Vietnamese Marian Days Festival. This event began in 1977, when Vietnamese people gathered here to honor Our Lady and to thank her for help in reaching freedom. It has also been and continues to be a time for the Vietnamese faithful to be immersed in their culture and prayers, to attend workshops, prayer services and Mass in Vietnamese. For us, this event is a great opportunity to be present to these Vietnamese Catholics, to promote vocations to religious life, and to have an experience of cultural immersion. This event also helps us see how people from different ethnic groups live out their faith. Even though some of us did not know Vietnamese, we ate Vietnamese food, praised God and gave thanks to our Mother with one heart of faith and love. It was a very enriching experience.
Our Kentucky community has participated in this event since the 1990s with a vocation booth. When we became Dominican Sisters of Peace, we continued the tradition to attend every other year. This year, even though we were soaked with sweat under the extremely hot weather, six of us took turns to be at the booth and interact with people, to listen and share stories, and to pray with them. Sr. Ana Gonzalez was also one of the panelists for the youth session. Each day, we participated in a solemn Mass and procession with all in attendance.
At our vocation booth, we gave out tote bags, backpacks, and fans, all free of charge. We also gave away Be Peace silicon bracelets, peace rosary bracelets, missionary rosaries, Be Peace pins, and many other vocation prayer cards and promotional materials. All of these items were imprinted with the words “Be Peace,” reminding people that each of us has a responsibility to “be, build, live and preach” peace.
We also had Pope Francis with us (as a standup cardboard poster), wearing a traditional Vietnamese hat called “nón lá.” Our Pope became a drawing card for many people who stopped to have their picture taken with him. Sr. Ana served as our official photographer. Before taking a picture, she would say, “We are the Dominican Sisters of Peace, so I would like to invite all of you to say PEACE (not CHEESE) when I take the picture.” They all happily said PEACE with beautiful smiles.
During this weekend, we interacted with thousands of people from many places, including the young, old, women and men, different ethnic groups, religious sisters, brothers, and priests from various congregations and dioceses. We were also happy to connect with sisters, brothers, and friends, especially sisters from different congregations whose members have stayed with us during their studies here in the U.S.
Our presence and participation, along with many other religious, gave people the chance to get to know something about religious life.
Over the years, several of our Sisters first met us at our Vocation Booth during Marian Days. Sr. Mary Vuong is one example. Her father came to our booth in 1996, had some conversations with our sisters, then picked up our vocation material, bringing the material home, and giving these materials to his daughter, Mary. He encouraged her to write a letter to the vocation director who was Sr. Mary Ortho at that time; and finally, Mary ended up becoming a Dominican Sister, who is now living in South Bend, Indiana. In 1999, Sr. Maidung met the sisters at the vocation booth also. After having a conversation with them, going home, and reading their vocation materials, she contacted the vocation director (Sr. Binh Nguyen) and entered as a discerner in 2000. Recently, in 2019, Sr. Tram Bui, volunteered with us at the vocation booth and in conversation with Sr. June Fitzgerald, she decided to discern her vocation with us again, after a few years of pause.
There are many ways God reaches out to you to invite you to consider a call to religious life. Perhaps this call has come to you through an invitation to have your picture taken with the Pope, to scan the QR code, or to read a rack card, newsletter, retreat invitation, personal conversation, or through a friend who brings these materials home to you. Whether or not you feel a call to religious life, we invite you to take time to read our vocation materials or visit our website so that you can learn more about religious life and our mission. The more you explore and open your heart, the more you can begin to hear the voice of God calling you to consider discerning and entering religious life. To explore this life, visit our vocation website, contact us, or register for our hybrid Come and See Discernment retreat September 23-25 in Akron, OH.
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