BY ROBERT MORALES
Father Saul Pacheco, parish administrator for Our Lady of Fatima Parish, has announced the arrival of seminarian, Cong Vo, 25, who will live in Van Horn for one year as part of his one-year pastoral studies.
“It was a long journey from the time I finished high school until today,â€ said Mr. Vo. “I made the decision to become a Catholic priest was when I finished high school.â€
Mr. Vo lived in the southern Mekong Delta region of Vietnam in a small town, Vinhlong, until the age of 21. Mr. Vo was advised by his pastor to attend the university and become an engineer with the long range goal of attending the seminary. Mr. Vo followed that advice, and he earned an engineering degree in construction. To become a priest in Vietnam, the applicant must first hold the equivalent of a bachelor degree.
Because the Vietnamese government limits the number of slots available to young men to enter the seminary, Mr. Vo was denied admission into the primary seminary in Vietnam. Mr. Vo spoke to his vocational director and to the bishop, and they decided that they would try and get Mr. Vo admitted into an American seminary. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Vo was on his way to the El Paso Diocese to eventually gain admittance into Assumption Seminary in San Antonio.
Father Saul, who was in his last year in the seminary and a deacon at the time, met Mr. Vo, who spoke very little English. Mr. Vo said that Father Saul immediately became a mentor.
He will learn the differences in the culture of his homeland and the culture of a small American rural town.
After he completes his pastoral year in Van Horn, Mr. Vo will return to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio to complete two more years of coursework in theology, at which time he will receive a Master of Divinity.
Although he learned the basics of English in Vietnam, Mr. Vo said he was unable to communicate well in English when he arrived in the United States.
“I learned the principles of writing and grammar, but that was on paper,â€ Mr. Vo explained. Mr. Vo studied English for six months at St. Charles Borromeo School in El Paso and another six months at the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC) in San Antonio.
The Vietnamese language has gone through a major evolution, said Mr. Vo. Prior to the 17th century, the language was highly influenced by the Chinese and the characters used by the Chinese. However, in 1627, when Catholicism was introduced in Vietnam, Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit priest, developed a new writing system based upon Latin, Portuguese and French. Today, Vietnamese is written in somewhat complex Latin characters, but the pronunciation remains the same as when it was written in Chinese characters.
Mr. Vo said that after only one week, he feels the warmth and the spiritual strength of the people in Van Horn.
“Itâ€™s like the farm boy going into city,â€ he said. “Iâ€™m from a small town in Vietnam, and this feels like home to me. Itâ€™s like Iâ€™ve come back from where I came from. Iâ€™ve seen in a short amount of time that this small town has a big faith, generous hearts, and a strong love for God and his church.â€
“Having someone with Congâ€™s background, someone from another culture, different from ours, with a different experience of faith, it enriches our community,â€ said Father Saul. “It enriches our Lady of Fatima family, but it also enriches Van Horn because Cong brings this rich cultural experience of his faith, his gifts and his talents to us. All of this will be a blessing for us.â€