By Greg Mellen     4/27/2021

On the patio outside the Freed Theater on the Christ Cathedral campus, a special wishing tree was laden with hundreds of purple “leaves.” Each was actually a piece of paper inscribed with a message. The missives ranged from pieces of scripture to memorable quotes to personal reflections. Collectively they were pleas for peace and an end to the recent surge of racism, violence and hate. 

Below the tree, large votive candles glittered near placards with the names of the victims of the March 16 mass shooting rampage in Atlanta that claimed eight victims, including six Asian women. 

On Tuesday, March 30, in response to the shooting and a rise in hate crimes, particularly against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, a vigil was staged at Christ Cathedral to remember victims. More than 200 parishioners, volunteers and allies of the diocese’s Asian community attended the vigil in a public display of unity and purpose. 

“I think our faith community tends to suffer in silence,” Sister Thui Tran, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, said of Asians. 

This was a chance to speak up in a place where it was “safe to come together and heal each other,” she said. 

Katie Tran, grants and program manager for Hope Community Services, donators of the tree, presided over the service. Throughout she referred to the gathering as a “healing space.” 

The evening vigil, set up with the help of the diocese’s offices of Youth & Young Adult Ministry and Life, Justice and Peace, along with faith and nonprofit groups, came together almost organically, with each group adding its own flair and cultural touch. 

According to Armando Cervantes, director of the Youth & Young Adult Ministry, the event was a melding of “different communities with their different giftings.” 

Featured speakers were Auxiliary Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen, Sister Maria Ly, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Father Peter Lavin, from the Filipino community, and Jessica Nguyen, from the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement. There were also prayers, gospel readings and music by a Korean Catholic youth band. 

Bishop Nguyen said while prayer remained necessary, “we as Catholics have to stand up for the truth we believe in.” 

He added that the message resonated during Holy Week, when Catholics reflect on the cross and the passion of Jesus. 

The bishop said recent trends in violence, bullying, racist language are “sins that separate us from God and sins that separate us from each other,” adding they are “an affront to human dignity.” 

Bishop Nguyen invoked the words of Bishop Kevin Vann, who called the racism “not only regrettable but reprehensible.”   

Jessica Nguyen related a recent incident when she was confronted during a visit to a physical therapy client. Nguyen said, when questioned, she fell into her cultural reactions of bowing her head and averting her eyes. 

“These small remarks and microaggressions, they stay with us and mark us,” she said. “They make us feel small and less than.” 

It is time, Nguyen said, for Asians to realize “you belong here.” 

“We are called upon to put our prayer to actions,” she said. “Tomorrow we have to be that change.” 

As Greg Walgenbach, director of Life, Justice and Peace, and Sister Thui recited a closing prayer, the carillon bells from the nearby Bell Tower sounded out the top of the hour. 

Volunteers passed out markers and paper leaves to write upon. 

Placed on the tree, the leaves danced in the evening breeze.