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Spotlight Report

Vietnamese Catholics praise Law

Offer cardinal and his successor a gift during Mass

By David Abel, Globe Staff, 12/25/2002

Less than two weeks after taking over the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Richard G. Lennon stood before more than 1,000 parishioners who packed the pews last night at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, telling the hushed congregation: ''It's a privilege and an honor for me to be able to celebrate this Christmas Mass.''

He added: "I thank you all very much for your kindness and your coming together to thank God for his forgiveness of our sins."

Near the end of the evening Mass, an annual Christmas Eve service for the city's Vietnamese Catholics, Duy Anh Vu, a community leader, told the new apostolic administrator his congregants would like to present him and his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, with a gift they should share.

"Your eminence, even though you are no longer the archbishop, you will always be our beloved father," Vu said of Law, echoing the sentiments of many in the pews who described him as an inspiration to the Vietnamese immigrants. "Our beloved cardinal, no matter what happens, may peace be with you."

Four young girls dressed in traditional bright gowns then slowly walked up to the altar and delivered the red-ribboned gift to the seated bishop.

"Please be assured that when I see Cardinal Law, I will share with him your very generous words," said Lennon, describing the recently resigned cardinal as "a priest who has served you and loved you very much."

Then he added that he recently saw Law, who stepped down as archbishop Dec. 13, and said: "He is coming along well, and with God's grace, maybe he'll be back with us soon."

It was a dramatic moment after nearly a year in which the clergy sexual abuse scandal tarred the archdiocese and forced Law to resign.

"We feel very sorry about what has happened, but the cardinal was always very good to us," said Joseph Nguyen, a parishioner of St. William Church in Dorchester, who helped organize last night's Mass. "We only wish him well, and we look forward to working with the new bishop."

Lennon spoke about the story of Christmas, as recounted by Luke in the New Testament. He spoke about how Jesus was born in the manger and how angels revealed to shepherds that the baby boy was God's son.

"As St. Paul tells us," Lennon said, "because we have received such a wonderful gift, we are to reject ungodly ways and worldly desires, and we are to live devoutly in this age."

It was a message warmly received by the congregation, some of whom had to stand because the cathedral was so crowded. When Lennon finished, the congregation gave him a round of applause.

"We miss the cardinal," said Lien Dang, 33, of Dorchester. "He had a very special touch. But we are looking forward to a better year next year."

Despite the nostalgia and the somber feelings of many congregants after a year of front-page allegations about the church, the mood last night was festive.

As a choir sang in both English and Vietnamese, the traditionally dressed girls danced before the bishop with candles in their hands. The massive neo-Gothic cathedral was adorned with wreaths and poinsettias, and many families held hands through the Mass.

Before joining the hundreds taking the Eucharist from the new bishop, 18-year-old Ton Dang smiled.

"This is nice," he said.

David Abel can be reached at

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 12/25/2002
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