Braxton Citizens' News, Community

Small but Mighty: Sharing God’s Mercy and Love

Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston publications by Joyce Bibey Manager of Writing and Social Media. It is reprinted here with permission for local reader’s enjoyment.

His tiny parish on ‘Catholic Hill’ in Braxton County, and his even smaller mission church in rural Clay County are proof that even if you are small in number with Christ fully alive in your heart you are mighty.

Father Thien Duc Nguyen, S.V.D. (Society of the Divine Word), said his communities are “rich in kindness and love.”

Both St. Thomas Parish, Gassaway, and Risen Lord Mission, Maysel, are tucked away in scenic rural areas of central West Virginia. On a “good” Sunday, St. Thomas Parish’s pews are filled with 60 people; and at the mission church, 20.

While other parishes two, three, and four or more times that size are struggling to breathe life into their social ministries and community outreach projects, Father Thien’s faithful are putting all their trust in God.

Both the parish and mission run food pantries feeding hundreds each month, and both are part of a backpack program that provides weekend snacks and staples for children in the local elementary schools.

The Mission church sits in what is considered a food desert with nothing more than a convenient store in a reasonable distance for families. Needless to say, the foot traffic to the food pantry there is heavy, but what is also packed is the prayer box on the property. After every distribution day, Fr. Thien and his volunteers empty the box and add the heartfelt notes to the prayers of the faithful.

The kindness and love of the faithful in these two communities doesn’t stop there.

Last month, on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Catholic families of Gassaway officially began another significant ministry – Walking with Moms in Need.

Walking with Moms in Need is a nationwide, parish-based initiative to increase support for pregnant and parenting mothers in need. Everyone who is prolife and part of a Catholic parish should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need. Walking with Moms in Need is an opportunity for Catholic parish families to “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in need, accompanying them in friendship and helping to connect moms with local resources.

Bishop Mark Brennan has repeatedly said, “our Church is both pro-child and pro-woman. As the prolife movement long ago realized, seeking only to limit or eliminate abortions is not enough. We must also provide support to mothers before and after they give birth and to their families.”

Father Thien wholeheartedly believes Walking with Moms in Need is one way we can put our words into action.

So, after Mass on April 7th, just like after every Sunday Mass, the congregation at St. Thomas Parish prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Then he brought six parishioners before the altar, blessed them, and installed them as officers of this new ministry, reminding all that Divine Mercy is a call for us to show “God’s mercy – God’s love to other.”

“We are called to be the Divine Mercy’s disciples – the devotion for Divine Mercy Sunday is not something to be celebrated just once a year, nor is it simply a chaplet or modified rosary of prayers sung or recited,” he said. “Divine Mercy is meant to fill our lives and flow through us into the lives of others.”

After the blessing there was even more to celebrate. Father Thien and parishioners gathered for a baptism and a baby shower to benefit two young mothers. Mothers that have benefited from the pantries and will now have the extended love and support from the Walking with Moms in Need.

Oh wait! That’s not all! Those who lingered that busy Sunday also attended Father’s blessing of the new baby pantry stocked with baby diapers and supplies that was opening the next day.

“We have been helping many moms with utilities, diapers…” Fr. Thien said. “We never turn anyone away,” adding, Walking with Moms in Need is just a natural next step.

The new program for the Braxton County parish will also be helping grandparents. Father said that as many as 80% of grandparents in the county are taking care of their grandchildren.

“At Risen Lord Church we have been helping 106 students from Clay Elementary School weekly during the school year, and around 250-300 families who come to the food pantry every month,” he noted. “At St Thomas, we have been helping 23 students at Burnsville Elementary School weekly during school year, and around 100-120 families who come for food at food pantry every month.”

Ordained eight years ago on May 28th, Fr. Thien has learned it just takes one person to make a difference, just like St. Teresa of Calcutta taught don’t sell yourself short – “If you can’t feed a hundred people then feed just one.” That slogan is printed on the side of the pantries’ box truck.

“The word mission means ‘to be sent’,” Father said. “Jesus’s mission on earth was to bring the Good News of salvation, and today the Church Universal continues that work. We, as the Church, are part of that mission. We form one people- bishops, priests, religious, and laity. We are bound together in communion of faith; called to a commitment of love with Jesus as our center and the Holy Spirit as our source of life and power. We are called to be Divine Mercy Disciples.”

Father Thien shared a quote from Pope Francis:

“Rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself; and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves.

Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is…life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.”

To donate to St. Thomas and Risen Lord’s social ministries, please make check payable to: Saint Thomas Food Pantry or Risen Lord Food Pantry and mail to: Saint Thomas Catholic Church, 624 Kanawha St., Gassaway, WV 26624.