Local priest meets three popes

An outside observer would say Msgr. Peter Quang Nguyen has a knack for meeting popes.

His office at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver is lined with photos of him shaking hands with Pope Francis, receiving a blessing from Blessed John Paul II and a picture of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“I could never believe someday I would see the Holy Father, who has the spirit of Ignatius of Loyola but has the heart of St. Francis,” he said about Pope Francis.

This year, Msgr. Quang flew to Rome knowing he’d have a chance to be in the receiving line to meet the pontiff. While staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae (St. Martha’s House), which is adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, he was eating lunch in the refectory when Pope Francis walked in wearing a white cassock. He invited the Denver priest to join him for lunch.

“He was just so friendly,” he said.

With other guests, he shared where he was visiting from and they chatted through a translator.

“Later on the pope changed languages and said, ‘Maybe we can use French.’ Then I could carry on a conversation with him a little bit.”

Msgr. Quang had much he wanted to say—“I thought I could tell him a thousand things, but at that moment I was mute. I don’t know if I really enjoyed the meal I was so nervous,” he said.

He did muster to tell the pope one thing.

“All I could say is, ‘We love you.’”

He brought a papal blessing back to his parish and school.

In about 2004, Msgr. Quang visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome while on pilgrimage. He said he was moving back to get a better view of the larger-than-life baroque statues of the apostles when he met the emeritus pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

“I kept moving backwards and I ran into him,” he said.

They greeted each other and talked briefly.

“I then had a chance to express my appreciation for his writings and the beauty of the theology,” Msgr. Quang said.

A year later, the cardinal was named the next vicar of Christ.

It was in 1993 that Msgr. Quang, then a recently-ordained priest, met Blessed John Paul II during his stay at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver for World Youth Day.

“My first impression was he’s just amazing. Here’s this guy who survived the suffering of communism. It gave me a sense of courage, of hope,” said the priest who also escaped the communism of his homeland in Vietnam.

Meeting the popes was a blessing, he said.

“It just helped me to appreciate what we have in our daily life,” Msgr. Quang said.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash