The story of a Vietnamese priest

Could it be that we are heading for something like this, even in our lifetime?

Here is a story from CNA with my emphases.

The desperate plight of Catholics in Vietnam – one priest’s story
By Alan Holdren and David Kerr

Rome, Italy, Jul 15, 2011 / 05:53 am (CNA).- “If I return now, they will throw me in jail and kill me.” These are the frank words that mark an encounter with Father Peter Nguyen Khai, a 41-year-old Vietnamese priest living in Rome.

His crime? Not hiding his Catholic faith.

“My parents taught me how to pray daily and keep the faith in our home, but we never went to church,” says Fr. Khai who grew up in the predominantly Catholic village of Phuc Nhac in the Ninh Binh province of northern Vietnam.

“I learned that the government did not allow the parishioners to gather for worship at the church. Attending Holy Mass, therefore, was a special treat for me.”

It is a situation that many Vietnamese Catholics simply had to learn to live with. For Fr. Khai, though, any thoughts of quietly co-existing with the regime evaporated following one particular boyhood experience.

“One day, I saw a mentally ill woman who used to wander around the village. She came to the church in tears, banging on its front door with her skinny hands and crying out with great anguish: ‘The church is still here, but where is Father?’”

“Father” was a local pastor, Fr. Matthew Hau, who a few years before had been arrested, tortured and killed by the local communist authorities. A vicious persecution of all the Catholics in the village then ensued – the Khai family included.

“After learning the story of Fr. Matthew Hau and his heroic acts to the end of his life in order to protect the faith of his people, especially the accounts of his arrest, torture and senseless murder, I suddenly had a strong desire to become a priesta “Father” like him,” says Fr. Khai.

And so began 12 years of clandestine formation with just one aim – to become a Catholic priest.

Initially he sought out the only surviving Redemptorist priest in northern Vietnam, a member of his extended family, Fr. Joseph Bich. Under the pretense of being the old man’s caretaker, Fr. Khai studied at Fr. Bich’s home in Hanoi.

“Unfortunately, the police in Hanoi suspected my real reason. They summoned me repeatedly to the local precinct for interrogation and put all kinds of pressure on Fr. Joseph Bich.”

And so, Fr. Khai set off for the relative safety of Saigon in the south of the country. It was here after years of secret studying, says Fr. Kwai, “I was secretly ordained to the priesthood in a small room on the night of September 25, 2001.”

Thus began a decade of priestly ministry to the Catholic population in both north and south Vietnam, often playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the communist authorities.

However in 2010, “after a few years of leading the faithful,” says Fr. Khai “in highly publicized quests for justice and truth against the oppression of the communist government,” his superiors decided to send him to Rome.

Unable to leave the country legally, he made a dangerous trek across the Vietnamese border into Laos and on to Thailand.

“After many perilous days during which I had more than once confronted the fear of death, I arrived in Bangkok,” the Thai capital.

Throughout these escape episodes I knew that St. Joseph was protecting me in a special way. His own story of leading Mary and the baby Jesus to safety remained my constant hope and inspiration,” says Fr. Khai.

In Rome, his campaign for the Catholics of Vietnam continues. He shares photos of peaceful protest and prayer being suppressed by riot police, images of tear gas being used and women being beaten. He even shows prints of babies who, he claims, were forcibly aborted by the authorities. Fr. Khai says he carried out proper burials on each one.

He says the past few months spent “at the heart of the Church” has only deepened his “love and devotion to the causes of my Catholic brothers and sisters back home who still struggle and suffer every day for their faith in a ruthless regime.”

That suffering, he says, is “systematic” and “cunning” and comes in many guises from interference in episcopal appointments down to everyday discrimination in politics, the law and freedom of worship.

The government uses all forces at their disposal, including the state media, the political apparatus, the laws and the public education system to stop the growth of the Catholic Church at all costs.

“Catholics in every part of Vietnam are considered second-class citizens, deserving discrimination in legal treatment” he concludes.

His key message is that he not only wants the outside world to protest but also to pray for Vietnam, a country he believes is ripe for the message of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

“Vietnamese society as a whole is thirsty for truth and justice and their result which is peace. They are tired of living under a regime full of lies, corruption and unjust treatment.”

When the Catholic leadership is strong in promoting these fundamental values, they earn the respect and loyalty of the poor, the educated and the young people who are seeking.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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20 Responses to The story of a Vietnamese priest

  1. Augustin57 says:

    I think this is what we’re headed to eventually in Western society. Get ready. We can obtain the red crown of martyrdom if we are lucky! What a gift!

  2. Dr. Eric says:

    My friend’s grandfather was crucified in Laos by the Vietnamese for being a Catholic.

  3. jfm says:

    This is so horrific, but so inspiring – what a calling. I had no idea this was going on in contemporary Vietnam.

    Augustin57, do you really think this is where Western society is headed? I really do not think there will be such outright violence and hostility – I think the trend in Western society is to treat religion indifferently, condescendingly, and to view it as irrelevant rather than treat with violence. Believers will be pressured to keep beliefs to themselves, not because they will be executed, but because they will feel embarrassed. No red crowns of martyrdom — more likely red faces of mockery. It will take courage to be a believer, certainly, but the consequences will not be death.

    Unless you are talking about the possibility that Western society becomes overtaken by militant Islam, in which case all bets are off.

  4. Clinton says:

    If such persecutions came to these shores, could I stand the test like the magnificent Fr. Khai?

    If the Church is just a crutch for the ignorant like our shiny modern betters insist, then why
    isn’t She just left to collapse under the weight of Her own irrelevance, like Keith Olbermann?
    Instead, these would-be Daleks must Exterminate! Any number of organizations
    purporting to fight for Peace-n-Justice are left alone to gas on in peace, but totalitarians
    everywhere hate and fear the Church. With their persecutions they pay her a sick but sincere
    compliment.

  5. Our Lady of La Vang, pray for us!

  6. DT says:

    @Augustin57

    The witness of martyrdom is not a matter of luck, but of grace.

  7. The main strategy of socialism in the United States is “change from within”, that is, to change institutions via internal subversion instead of the armed struggle, government edict, or labor action. I’d say they’ve been quite successful.

  8. Augustin57 says:

    jfm, I really do think that’s where we’re headed. I think of it along the lines of a 100 railcar train, completely full to the limit, racing along the tracks at 100 mph and someone says, “Stop on a dime!” It’s not going to happen. The momentum is way too great.

    And I don’t think the battle will really be against Muslims, although it could be. I think it will be against the folks who have fallen prey to the Enlightenment movement. The atheists. I think the Muslims will be on our side, or at least they should be. We will be fighting for the right to believe in God and practice our beliefs.

    Behind the scenes, these atheists, under the influence of Satan, of course, have gotten control over the media and Hollywood, the government, and the schools. They are brainwashing the children in an incredibly effective manner to be “against religion” of any kind. And it’s not happenstance. It was planned and coordinated back some time ago.

    Without some sort of miracle on God’s part, it will continue to get worse and worse and worse until we become persecuted and brutalized. It’s a repeat of history. I see no reason why people who support murdering the most innocent human beings (unborn babies) in the place which is supposed to be the safest in the universe for them (their mother’s wombs) from killing or harming anyone. Life in their perspective is cheap. A commodity, if you will.

  9. DT says:

    @ jfm-

    I would surmise that the experience of faithful Catholics in Vietnam is not altogether dissimilar from that of the Church in China.

    Prayers are needed for the Church in both Vietnam and China!

  10. Joseph-Mary says:

    I hope and pray for the grace to remain faithful to ALL teachings of the Holy Church for as long as I live, no matter the cost.

    God bless thsi courageous priest! We need such men.

  11. alexandra88 says:

    I taught English to Vietnamese seminarians, priests, and nuns in Saigon in April and May of 2010. I lived with community and got to experience firsthand how faithful Catholics live under a Communist regime. Two of the priests whom I taught served previous jail time and many of my younger students have experienced harassment from police. The Vietnamese Catholic community is amazingly resilient and have a vibrant living faith. God is blessing them with a phenomenal number of vocations and they deserve our prayers and support in the fullest sense of the word.

  12. czemike says:

    A recent sermon on Audio Sancto warns that we’re going to be seeing persecution in this country (the United States) sooner than later:
    http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20110703-Prepare-for-Persecution-Lest-You-Become-an-Apostate.html

    An eerie part of that sermon is the analysis by St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage as to why so many Christians apostatized: in short they had grown weak in the Faith and lax in their discipline… which sounds pretty much like the state of the Church now.

  13. Mitchell NY says:

    A heroic passage to safety. He was indeed watched over..Odd to hear Vietnam referred to as North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Saigon when speaking of the recent past. I guess division has not healed under the prevailing gov’t. I will make special mention of that country and its’ people in my prayers tonight.

  14. mike cliffson says:

    Could it be that we are heading for something like this, even in our lifetime?
    More martyrs in XX cent. than in the whole history of the church. Excluding the Anglosphere and Latin America apart from Mexico, not so heavy comaparitively in France and Italy…. And it looks like where we’re heading.Our turn next? could be.

  15. These days, criticizing the United States’ involvement in Vietnam is popular. Maybe fighting Communism was the right thing to do after all, even though the U. S. lost, and despite the corruption of the South Vietnamese government. When I read things such as this, I can’t help but wonder if more could not have been done. Yet it is never easy, as we see even today.

  16. JKnott says:

    «If My requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there wilt be peace. If My requests are not granted, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.» – Our Lady of Fatima

  17. bookworm says:

    Frankly, if some of you are right about serious persecution coming, I am so NOT ready for it it’s pathetic. I haven’t converted a single soul to the faith (can’t even get my own husband on board), plus I’m getting up in years, and have both a disabled spouse and a handicapped child totally dependent on me with no way to protect them from any of this. I really don’t know what the heck I am going to do if it comes to that.

    But I digress. On a brighter note…

    The commitment of Vietnamese Catholics to their faith is incredible and inspiring. Vietnamese Catholics in the U.S. and even from overseas have a HUGE gathering every August called “Marian Days” that draws about 70,000 to 80,000 participants, including large numbers of Vietnamese clergy, to the grounds of a former seminary in Carthage, Missouri. You read that right — attendance consistently runs in the high five figures.

    According to Rocco Palmo’s “Whispers in the Loggia” blog, Marian Days is the second biggest Catholic gathering of ANY kind in the United States (second only to a gigantic Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day celebration near Chicago that draws about 200,000). Yet it gets very little if any notice even in the Catholic press. Unless you are a Catholic of Vietnamese heritage or live in southwest Missouri, you probably have never heard of it. I know I hadn’t until I saw it mentioned in “Whispers”.

    Carthage, by the way, is a few miles northeast of Joplin. Although the festival site is outside of the area devastated by the May 22 tornado, the disaster is bound to have an impact on this year’s event as many festival attendees patronized hotels, restaurants, etc. in Joplin that have now been destroyed. Perhaps the convergence of two suffering communities aiding one another will finally bring Marian Days the notice that it deserves this year.

  18. Stephen D says:

    I have just read a very well researched book (Trial, Tribulation and Triumph) written by a Catholic theologian and reliant only on Scripture, Tradition, approved apparitions and the writings of Saints and Beati. If the writer’s thesis is correct, then martyrdom is going to be ‘on offer’ to many European Catholics very soon and especially priests. The book, written in the 90′s, states that (unless heroic amounts of sacrifice and prayers are offered to prevent it) there will, in a short time, be civil wars in France and Italy, spreading throughout Europe causing the Russians to take the opportunity to invade along with some Islamic nations followed by the assassination of a Pope and the violent suppression of Catholicism. All ending by the direct intervention of God and the introduction of Our Lady’s promised ‘era of peace’. This would have all seemed quite far-fetched in the 90′s but, with the economic woes in Greece spreading throughout Europe, it seems a fairly good bet at the moment.

  19. Patti Day says:

    bookworm, You may very well be in the process of aiding a conversion, of your husband, or those outside your immediate family, by your example. We never know whose heart may be moved closer to God by oberservation of the simple things we do daily.

    I, too, am not ready to die a brutal death, but I pray for the courage to do so if it should come to that. I feel hopeful, as someone who returned to the Catholic faith, that there are thousands upon thousands like me who are coming to realize that the Truth and meaning they so desperately seek in the secular world is here in our Catholic faith.

  20. joslire says:

    Vietnam was my second home for many years until 2010. The persecution is really though usually quite subtle.

    For instance, Duc Ba Cathedral in Saigon is next to a public park. During Holy Days the “authorities” will hold very loud, very irreverent Communist Party events in the park. Often it’d be virtually impossible to hear the priest say Mass.

    At one point I realized that I had a “watcher” who followed me into Mass. After some months police began visiting homes & businesses immediately after I left. This went on until I was eventually detained at SGN airport. After a few hours interrogation I was released & this never recurred that I’m aware.

    I cannot possibly know the truth of this assertion, but some of the priests are heretical & I believe are planted by the government to weaken the faith. I witnessed numerous sermons and Masses that were suspect. I don’t mean clown masses or such that we know of here, instead political sermons & blatant irreverence during the celebration.

    The government will claim that only 8~12% of the population are Catholic. I believe it much higher. Most of the religious & faithful are very strong in their faith and actions.