AMORY – A couple of countrymen from half a world away meet once a week to worship together at St. Helen’s Catholic Church. Father Joseph Le ministers mass on Sundays to congregations in Aberdeen and Amory, and one of his communicants in Amory is Dr. Hoat Hoang. Both men are from originally from South Vietnam.
Le and Hoang both immigrated to the United States under the auspices of Catholic Charities through the years since South Vietnam was overtaken by the communist regime of North Vietnam. Both men have memories of difficult times back in their homeland.
Le’s family lived in the outskirts of the capital city of Saigon, while Hoang grew up in a coastal fishing village called Phuoc Tinh approximately 200 miles away.
Hoang and his family evacuated during the massive boat lift in 1975 as Saigon fell, while Le came to America in 1992.
“Do you remember the boat people on the news? That was us. We were some of those people,” Hoang said.
Le started working when he was 7 years old.
“My father was a political prisoner from the time Saigon fell until 1983. We lost everything we had,” he said.
Le’s family literally lived off the grid during those years.
He is grateful for the efforts of the Catholic Charities along with American officials such as the late Sen. John McCain, who paved the way for both Hoang and Le to come to America.
“Unless you have been there, you just don’t know,” Le said.
Hoang will always remember his harrowing journey from war-torn Vietnam to America as a young boy in search of a new life. All he knew growing up were the terrors of war.
He was raised Catholic, with church being an important part of family life as well as becoming his only hope of getting away from the religious persecution of the Communists.
Le first settled in Oklahoma with friends and went on to serve with the Carmelite Order of the Catholic Church in locations as diverse as Oregon, Washington and even Alaska for five months.
“I met a priest from Mississippi who helped me to come to Jackson in 2013,” he said.
Le’s first assignment through service with the Jackson diocese was in Greenville before an eventual assignment in Tupelo. While in Tupelo, Le heard about Hoang being a fellow former Vietnam countryman. Le was installed as sacramental minister for the Monroe County parishes last October, giving him the opportunity to see Hoang on a regular basis and quickly form a bond.
“I was surprised to find him when I came [to Monroe County],” Le said.
Hoang had been in the United States for 17 years, already receiving his medical education at Louisiana State University before coming to Amory to practice.
While Le ministers to Hoang, he hopes that Hoang, a surgeon, will not need to minister to him.
Hoang keeps a boat down on the coast, where he goes to fish and visit with extended family in Louisiana. His father is well into his 80s and continues the sport as a pastime that he did for a living in Vietnam.
“He can out-fish us all. I hope someday Father Joseph and I will have opportunity to enjoy a fishing trip together,” Hoang said. “We both love fishing in our spare time.”