By Gordon Nary
Gordon: As Professor of Religious Studies at Sienna College, What are the courses that you teach?
Fr. Linh: I have taught courses called: American Catholicism, Introduction to World Religion, Experiences of the Sacred, Religion in Western Culture, Global Catholicism, Religion in America, Sacraments, and special seminars on such topics as Race and Religion, Asian American Religions. My focus has been trying to provide students with a better understanding of other religions
Gordon: You earned your PhD in Historical Theology at Fordhan University. What is Historical Theology?
Fr. Linh: Historical theology is the study and reflection on history’s influence on the development of doctrine, tradition, and practices as accepted now in the Church. This includes studying a particular scholar, a community of believers or a period of history pivotal to Christianity. Historical theology is interdisciplinary because it involves looking at all different aspects of human life in order to understand the rich relationship between God and humans.
Gordon: In a Pew Research Center, CARA, the Barna Group, and Dr. Christian Smith’s team at Notre Dame. we learned that young Catholics are leaving their faith at rates higher than almost any other religious group./ o you have any insights into some of the factors that contribute to this challenge and ways that we cab address this challenge?
Fr. Linh: I believe that there are multiple reasons why young Catholics are not involved. I do not say that they are leaving the faith because I think they “put away” their faith and bring it out when an occasion arises. Students will tell me that they still attend major bio-social events such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. So, they remember certain aspects of the mass or ceremony and will participate. Then, I ask if they would choose to have a Catholic ceremony and many say they would. They see faith as integral to mark major milestones. To go deeper with them and inquire why they don’t do this regularly as to attend Sunday masses, many respond that it wasn’t really practiced in their home. Thus, their parents did not require them to go. Thus, parents play a major role in how the students will continue or not in their faith practices. I have heard other young people say that it is not a priority in their life but they are not hostile to it or dismissive of faith. Their attitude is rather apathetic to faith. But there are other young people who see will be quite involve if they see faith in action. Those students who participate in service work, protests, and/or campaigns do see faith as part of their lives. There is such variety of reasons that young people aren’t participating in the ways that the older generation did but I would hesitate to say that they have completely given up on Catholicism.
I think that the older generation can help welcome young people by our actions. I will provide three points here. 1) Hypocrisy is one of the main reasons young people find hard to accept. When they see adults saying one thing and doing something else, they are disappointed. I think that being consistent in our faith will help maintain the young adult’s participation. Many people see that in Pope Francis and we are blessed to have such a leader right now to promote in front of our young people. 2) Honesty. This is related to the first. Young people want honesty. When I teach about the history of the Church I have them read both the good things that occurred and also the brutal facts of the wars, crimes, and atrocities that the Church has done. They would rather have the information in front of them and then ask questions and also reflect on why this happen. This may be a result of their 24 hr access to unlimited information that probably trigger honesty as an important factor. 3) Hope. The Church needs to bring messages of hope. Young people hear and see constantly a world where wars, hatred, and natural destruction occurring regularly. This can be traumatic and defeating. So, they and all of us really, need to be reminded of the hope that Jesus brought into our world. Faith helps bring forth hope in a global society where it can be hard to find some time. Thus, I think that addressing hypocrisy, honesty, and hope—words that matter to people will help bring clarity to passing on the faith.
Gordon: You are also a consultant to United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In what specific issues do you consult?
Fr. Linh: I work mainly with the Office for Cultural Diversity on the Subcommittee for Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. Most of my work has been as a ghost writer for the conference about the history and traditions of the current Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the US. These booklets and other publications are available through the conference. I attend the Bishops bi-annual meetings and gather with the subcommittee for face-to-face meetings. In a few months, the Bishops will be publishing and distributing the first pastoral plan for the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. This is the first time that the Bishops have commissioned and approved a pastoral plan.
The issues that I try to help the bishops and others work through is racism, colonialism, generational difficulties, leadership issues, and others. There are usually other issues that arise after working with and talking to immigrant and refugee communities. I am also in contact with a larger group of leaders of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. They will let me know about immediate needs of their respective communities such as language resources or local faith communities.
Gordon: You help out on the weekends at different parishes. What are some of the parishes tat which you serve and what are your responsibilities?
Fr. Linh: I help with parishes in my local diocese of Albany where I work predominantly with Vietnamese-language masses and also the local retreat centers. I am also in parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark where I am weekend supply help. My weekend duties include also giving talks, spiritual direction, and different types of retreats within both of these dioceses.
At the college, I often help with daily masses for the students and staff at the school and weekend if needed. Students have also sought me out for spiritual and theological discussions. I also provide programming for the residential students on interfaith discussion.
Gordon: You are a Spiritual Leaders at PrayerSpark. Pleae provide you insights on the importance of prayer in our daily lives.
Linh: Prayer reminds me of my connection to something much bigger than myself. It grounds me in the fact of my own existence as well as immortality. I find solace in the fact that I am not alone. Even though I have a limited time on this earth, I know that prayer provides a connection here with God but also to a future with God. Prayer is the connector.
Gordon: What is you favorite prayer and why,
Fr. Linh: The Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. It is such a rich prayer because of the different elements and it is related to my previous answer. I find that the Our Father really highlight the connection between God, the world, and me. God is looking over the world in which I am part of and also required to participate in. I rely on the nourishment provided by God but also must share that with others. Our flawed, shared humanity requires us to work together for building up God’s kingdom.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.