Msgr. Joseph Trinh talks about what it means to “Encounter Christ in Harmony” at St. Martin of Tours in Franklin.

One out of every five Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States is Catholic. Together, they comprise nearly three million U.S. Catholics. Identifying the pastoral needs of these faith communities within the Catholic Church and encouraging Catholic dioceses and parishes to develop their own plans of action and pastoral outreach to meet them, is the vision of a document approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a formal statement of the same at its June 2018 General Assembly.

Unpacking the document, which is titled, “Encountering Christ in Harmony,” was the purpose of a day of reflection on Saturday, March 9. Asian and Pacific Island Catholics from throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee attended the day-long gathering sponsored by Intercultural Ministries and St. Martin of Tours Parish in Franklin. Fr. Joseph Quang Tran, SCJ, Associate Pastor of St. Martin of Tours gave the welcome and opening prayer.

Featured speakers at the event were Sr. Myrna Tordillo, MSCS, who is a member of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo (Scalabrinians) and assistant director for the USCCB/Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church/Asian and Pacific, and Msgr. Joseph Trinh, who serves as the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs (SCAPA) Ethnic Adviser for Vietnamese ministry. Msgr. Trinh is also the president of the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in the USA and pastor of St. Helena Parish in Philadelphia.

“Even though we come from different backgrounds and cultures – from Thailand, from Laos, from Vietnam and the Philippines – we wear different things, we eat different foods but there is one thing that we come together – because of Christ,” said Msgr. Trinh.

Sr. Tordillo walked through the process leading up to the creation of the document, which spans years and really gained momentum in 2013, when the subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs at the USCCB began a three-year process to create a national pastoral plan for Asian and Pacific Island Catholics.

“‘Encountering Christ in Harmony’ addresses four areas,” Sr. Tordillo said. “Identity, generations, leadership and culture of encounter, and dialogue in faith.”

The idea of “identity” is nuanced, if not complex, particularly for Asian and Pacific Island youth who may feel confused as they navigate home life, school life and church life. In small groups, attendees discussed sense of identity and identity confusion among the youth in more depth.

“I think you have to allow them to encounter Christ by your example,” said Vue X Yang, a member of St. Peter Claver Parish in Sheboygan. “You foster from early on – showing them by example but not by telling them what to do. You have to give them the choice.”

Two of the sessions during the day focused specifically on sharing the faith with young people and engaging them in leadership opportunities – and youth who attended the session met in small groups to discuss their perspectives.

The day of reflection at St. Martin of Tours is just a first step in engaging Asian and Pacific Island communities in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. According to the document, the goal of this response is to make these communities “feel at home, both in the Church and in the United States, while being able to preserve the richness of the spiritual and cultural background that they bring as contributing members to the body of Christ.”

“We come together because we believe in Christ and that means we are still who we are — we still wear the clothes we like, family traditions we do as we like, but on Sunday we do the same things. That is to come together in harmony. We don’t abandon our cultures or traditions, we keep them; we are proud of them,” said Msgr. Trinh. “Don’t change. Diversity and unity is what the Church is about.”

The Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters document is available online at