Seeing as God sees: Bishop speaks to Hmong Catholics on importance of prayer

| Joe Towalski | July 20, 2017 | 0 Comments

Bishop Andrew Cozzens speaks to attendees of the Hmong American National Catholic Association convention in Collegeville July 15. Dianne Towalski/For The Catholic Spirit

About a month after he was ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Bishop Andrew Cozzens had the opportunity to greet Pope Francis following a public audience in Rome. He wanted to thank the pope for naming him a bishop.

As Bishop Cozzens approached the Holy Father on that day in early 2014, the pope looked at the then 45-year-old bishop and quipped, “Oh my, you’re young. You’re going to have to work a lot.

“You have to pray a lot, too,” the Holy Father added. Then the pope tapped his finger on Bishop Cozzens’ chest three times, repeating the same phrase each time: “Pray a lot. … Pray a lot. … Pray a lot.”

It was Pope Francis’ way of emphasizing the importance of prayer in the life of a bishop, but it’s an important message for all Christians to take to heart, Bishop Cozzens said during his keynote address July 15 at the Hmong American National Catholic Association convention.

Approximately 160 people representing eight dioceses — including 60 people from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — attended the gathering July 14 to 16 at St. John’s University in Collegeville. The convention featured Masses with Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Cozzens, additional prayer opportunities, and workshops for youths and adults.

Bishop Cozzens, who served as a chaplain for the Hmong Catholic community in the archdiocese from 2006 to 2010 when he taught at St. Paul Seminary, spoke about “growing in faith through prayer.”

“In prayer, we learn to see the way God sees,” he said.

In order to see in this way, however, prayer must be rooted in a personal relationship with the living Jesus who speaks to our heart, Bishop Cozzens said.
When we hear Jesus, it has the power to change us and the way we see the world.

He quoted a letter that St. Teresa of Kolkata wrote to members of her Missionaries of Charity order: “Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart,” she wrote, “you will not be able to hear him say ‘I thirst’ in the hearts of the poor. You’ll never see Jesus in the other person until you see how he looks at you in love.”

“When I experience Jesus in the way Mother Teresa is talking about, and I experience that Jesus is a real person who I can know, [then] I am dethroned from the center of my life … and can put Jesus in the center,” Bishop Cozzens said.

“When you put Jesus in the center of your life, something beautiful happens: you discover your unique gift in life … and how God wants you to give yourself away,” he said.

Death is not the greatest tragedy in life, he told conference-goers. Rather, “it’s to get to heaven and meet God and have God say, ‘Look at all the beautiful things I wanted to do through your life if you only had put me at the center and not yourself.’ … The greatest tragedy in life would be not to fulfill the mission God has given you.”

This is why it’s important to have a relationship with Jesus, he said. “As I grow in prayer, I can begin to fulfill his mission.”

A group of women gather outside during the Hmong American National Catholic Association convention July 14-16 in Collegeville. Dianne Towalski/For The Catholic Spirit

Making connections

The convention’s theme was “Your Love Awakens Me, I am Alive,” inspired from Ezekiel 37:1-14.

In a letter to convention attendees, HANCA President Khamsy Yang wrote that, in the spirit of the New Evangelization and Pope Francis’ call to live as missionary disciples, “one of the most important goals of this convention is to create opportunities to empower our youth, young adults and adults to strengthen the bonds and outreach to the peripheries of our Hmong Catholic communities.”

Lidy Vu, 17, who worships at the St. Vincent de Paul campus of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, was one of approximately 80 youth and young adults who attended the convention.

“We’re all trying to get back into our faith,” she said. “I feel a lot of times during the school year we kind of drift away, so coming to a retreat in the summer and seeing all the people from different dioceses and churches from all over the country, it’s nice to regroup with them and get their perspective on faith.”

Vu said she enjoys gathering with other Hmong American Catholics and to hear the Hmong language used during Mass.

“I really appreciate that because as we get older, the [younger] generation slowly loses a little bit of the culture and we slowly get more into the American culture,” she said. “I think it’s super important that we, as Hmong Catholics, hold on to our culture and we keep that really close with our faith as well. I like that we incorporate both of those together — that it is OK to be Hmong and Catholic at the same time.”

Scalabrinian Sister Myrna Tordillo, assistant director of Asian and Pacific Island Affairs in the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, attended the convention to support the work of the Hmong American National Catholic Association and the people it serves.

“I wanted to be able to say [to them] that the bishops are really encouraging you to continue living your faith life and not losing your identity as Hmong, but to continue to enrich the church here in the United States.”

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