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Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Halfway through Sunday’s Easter service at the airy cathedral of Hoi An a friend from Virginia Beach in the pew behind mine, tapped my shoulder.

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 “We should move here so we can join this church,” she whispered.

I grinned and nodded enthusiastically. I knew just what she meant.

If I have a major gripe about the churches back home - besides all the molesting of kids and the clergy’s sluggish response to the horrific scandal - it’s that the music in most Catholic churches borders on funereal.

Sunday after Sunday dreary dirges pour forth from pipe organs or are pounded out on pianos as American worshippers sit mutely in the pews. Ours is supposed to be a religion of joy and hope, yet our music is enough to make you want to flee the buildings.

Am the only one wishing our hymns weren’t so unsingable?

They don’t have that problem here. Not in this Vietnamese church, anyhow.

Everyone harmonized at this English-language mass. The choir, the priest, the congregation. 

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The sweating congregation, that is. And the perspiring priest who pulled a handkerchief out of his heavy vestments many times to mop his brow. The whitewashed church in this charming coastal city has large open windows and fans mounted on the walls but no air conditioning. Chickadees flew in and out during the service, perching on chandeliers.

 Even they were singing.

We sat in front, but when I turned around it seemed the worshippers - some westerners, mostly Vietnamese - were in constant motion as they vigorously cooled themselves with colorful fabric fans that had been tucked into the back of the pews.

Mine featured a picture of the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It worked just fine.

No fancy pipe organ here. Just an electric keyboard played by a talented guy in a “Holy Week 2016 Da Nang Diocese” T-shirt . Instead of hymnals, there were two television screens mounted on each side of the altar with the lyrics. 

A holy karaoke.

The music? Ah, upbeat and rich. When a soprano launched into an Easter version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” - with the congregation joining in on the chorus - I nudged my daughter.

“I’m getting goosebumps,” I said.

She whipped out her camera and discreetly made a recording. We weren’t sure that was allowed, so the quality isn’t great, still, you can get the feel.

I worried when planning this trip that it wouldn’t feel like Easter this far from home. I doubted I’d be able to find a church on Easter Sunday. After all, only 6 percent of the Vietnamese population is Catholic. Protestants make up just 1 percent.

Not to worry. This church was crowded. And yes, many folks - including whole families - arrived by motor scooter. 

It’s good the bikers are the praying type. They need divine protection. 

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