Approximately 250 members of a Vietnamese Eucharistic youth movement spent July 2-5 at Niagara University, utilizing campus facilities for a major convention focused on bringing young people closer to God.
Ten of Miền Đông Bắc's 14 regional chapters - comprising students from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts - attended the convention. Operating under the theme of "You Shall Be Witnesses" from Acts of the Apostles, the event immersed the pre-teen and teenage participants in faith-based activities that began at 7 a.m. each day and continued until close to midnight.
All of the attendees are selected for inclusion in the convention and thus understand the commitment involved in being engrossed in faith and mission. Nary was a complaint heard regarding wakeup calls at the crack of dawn, daily morning rallies, or even a one-hour lecture on self-esteem at 10 p.m. Thursday, the group's travel day.
"The way our organization conducts events is very immersive, so once the participants are here, they don't leave the grounds. We run a really long daily itinerary, but the students are used to it by now," said Bao Hanh Tran, vice president of academics.
Several prominent speakers from throughout the northeast presented on topical matters, including assimilation into dual cultures (most of the Vietnamese-American students are bilingual), the roles of God and faith in today's society, social media, and psychological issues confronting young people (e.g. depression, anxiety and suicide).
One of the speakers was Father Martino Nguyễn Bá Thông, M.Div., founder of One Body Village Inc., an organization focused on combating child sex exploitation and trafficking, especially in Southeast Asian countries.
Another was the Rev. Michael M. Nguyen, C.M., an NU trustee and rector of the Miraculous Medal House (Vincentian College Seminary) in Jamaica, New York. Nguyen offered a talk on healthy relationships and dating, and the effect social media has on both. He couched his two-hour session on "love in the biblical context" in the framework of 1 Corinthians 13, which states, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."
Having been involved with Miền Đông Bắc since his formative years in Vietnam, Nguyen was familiar with the group, which he described as a national movement akin to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the U.S.
"This is a very organized group that does a remarkable job in helping young people to be good Christians," noted Nguyen, who also presided over Friday's Mass. "Additionally, when Father James Maher, C.M., became president of Niagara University, he pledged to welcome international students to campus. This is another step forward in that direction. Hopefully, as these young people come to campus from places like Turkey, Korea and Vietnam, they will be inspired by our mission and learning environment."
The convention also served as an experiential learning opportunity for the 10 current Niagara University students tasked with ensuring the international group enjoyed its stay on Monteagle Ridge. Led by Henrietta Nagy, an MBA student from Romania, the conference and events team saw to it that every detail was tended to, from check-in and facility usage to food selection and preparation.
"This experience will definitely make me more marketable to future employers," said Jonathan Borek, a sport operations and event and meeting management major from Perry. "I now have experience preparing for a group of 250 people and gained familiarity with making our staff's schedule through my role as a manager. This shows a prospective employer that I have a background in handling conferences, conventions and events."
Germán Sarmiento, a native of Colombia who is majoring in hospitality and tourism, affirmed working with guests from a different culture adds to the out-of-classroom learning experience and makes students more marketable to potential future employers.
At the same time, added Nagy, the Niagara students acquired valuable planning skills through their observing and interacting with the convention's organizers.
"The staff was very organized, so we also learned some best practices from them on how to organize such events," she said. "They were focused - 100 percent dedicated - working day and night - and they still had smiles on their faces and were full of energy.
"The group was very well behaved - an exceptional group that we are looking forward to having on campus again in the future."
The Rev. John Doai Kim Dang, C.M., a member of NU's Office of Campus Ministry, has had close ties with Miền Đông Bắc for many years, and is active with the local Vietnamese Catholic community. He and Maher attended the organization's yearly pilgrimage at Fatima Shrine in September, which led to the convention coming to Niagara this week.
The Rev. Kevin G. Creagh, C.M., Niagara University's vice president for university mission and ministry, also participated in numerous Masses and engagement sessions throughout the weekend. When the convention wrapped up Sunday afternoon, he thanked the group and its leaders for coming to NU and "inspiring us by their love of the Lord, the Church and their culture."
"I offer a special note of gratitude to the leaders, the pastors and the parents of these young people for investing in the youth of our Church, who bring us great hope for our Church and for our society," Creagh said.
Samantha Tran, the group's organizer, indicated gratitude flowed both ways. She said, "The NU staff was amazing and accommodating. Ranging from the IT team to registration assistance to kitchen helpers, they were always there when we needed help. Thank you, NU, for helping to make our convention experience so worthwhile."
Additional information on Miền Đông Bắc can be found at www.miendongbac.org.
To learn more about Niagara University, visit www.niagara.edu.