Ansonia Buddhist Temple to celebrate 20th anniversary this weekend

September 28, 2017

ANSONIA — The photograph of Thich Quang Duc, the 66-year-old monk who burned himself to death on a busy Saigon street in 1963 is as powerful a protest against religious persecution today as it was then.

Upon seeing the photo, President John F. Kennedy said,“No news picture generated so much attention as that one.”

More recently Ken Burns prominently used the photo in his Vietnam War series airing on PBS.

On Sunday, as part of the two-day 20th anniversary of the founding of the Phuoc Long Buddhist Temple on North Cliff Street, Duc will be remembered along with other monks who died protesting persecution under South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was later assassinated along with his brother and adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu, on Nov. 2, 1963, escalating the U.S. entry into the war.

The Venerable Thich Minh Duc, the local temple’s abbot and founder (and no relation to Thich Quang Duc), said he will lead the crowd in front of a map of Vietnam at 10:30 a.m. Sunday to pray for the monks and the 2 million Vietnamese, 58,220 Americans, and boat people fleeing Communist rule who lost their lives during the war and its aftermath.

Duc, now 61, was just a boy in Saigon during the 1960s. At 8, he was studying to be a monk. He came to the U.S. when he was 19.

Still, he remembers the persecution, the bombings and the killing all too well.

“After 1975 all (the South Vietnamese soldiers) had to go to jail,” he said speaking through an interpreter, Thich Thien Ngo, a Vietnamese monk from Louisiana. That was the year North Vietnamese troops swept to victory and ended the war.

But those prayers will only be part of the temple’s two-day celebration.

Duc expects as many as 300 people, including 40 monks and nuns from across the U.S. to attend. The monks and nuns will pray from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, after which Vietnamese music will be played.

“I am picking up five monks tonight at LaGuardia Airport,” said Pauline Do, a temple member who lives in Fairfield.

Invited to Sunday’s ceremony are the Rev. James Sullivan, pastor of Assumption church directly across the street from the temple, and Mayor David Cassetti.

“This is a very important day for them,” said Cassetti. “They have done a tremendous job in remodeling what was a Masonic lodge.”

Duc formed the temple in 1997 in a funeral home on Bridgeport’s Fairfield Avenue. The temple moved to Ansonia on April. 12, 2009, after buying the 12,000-square-foot lodge for $250,000. The renovations cost about another $200,000.

“It is very quiet here. The people are very nice...In Bridgeport you hear boom, boom, boom all the time,” said referring to gunfire and speaking though Ngo. “One time a bullet came through one of the windows (in Bridgeport).”

Of the 20,000 people living in Ansonia at least 606 are Asian, said Cassetti, who attends Assumption. Many of the temple’s members live outside the Valley.

All week the temple has been a hive of activity. Colorful mums fill the garden leading to the temple’s entrance. Fifty-pound sacks of jasmine and sweet rice, along with boxes of Oriental noodles and soybean oil were being carried into the kitchen.

Women and nuns, like Thich Nu Le Nguyen, were busy rolling vegetable balls, making large dumpling buns and washing huge woks.

Upstairs, sticks of sweet-smelling incense were lying on a table filled with candles, flower baskets and gift packages of tea and wafers, all of which will be presented to Buddha during Sunday’s service.

Gift bags of blankets, clothes and personal hygiene items were being filled for the visiting monks and nuns.

That service will end with a procession led by a marching dragon taking guests from the second floor around the outside of the temple, to the first floor where a banner for its new gate will be placed. A vegetarian dinner will be served for the monks, nuns, members and guests.