Friends inspire Vietnamese Buddhist woman to become Catholic
As a young Buddhist, Tran Thi Ha Ngan often wondered what motivated her Catholic friends to help people who were abandoned due to physical disabilities, leprosy or HIV/AIDS, regardless of their religion.
“I would often visit Catholic websites to look for what inspires them to take care of patients whom other people close their eyes to,” recalls 31-year-old Ngan, who was born into a religious Buddhist family in Hue, the ancient capital in central Vietnam.
As she read more about Christianity, Jesus Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself" and Francis of Assisi’s prayer "For it is in giving that we receive" left a deep impression on her.
This was sometime in 2009 when she was working on a climate change project along with some Catholic volunteers who later became her close friends.
“One time, I was deeply moved by the desperate plight of a Buddhist woman who was all skin and bone, confined to her bed and surrounded by an awful smell"
Back then Ngan wouldn’t have ever thought of embracing a religion that is considered Western.
“I enjoyed a close working relationship with my Catholic friends, who gave me books on human values and life, and Christmas cards. I also attended their birthday parties and Christmas dinners,” she said.
Ngan would also join them in offering food to poor patients at local hospitals and taking care of HIV/AIDS patients at their homes.
“One time, I was deeply moved by the desperate plight of a Buddhist woman who was all skin and bone, confined to her bed and surrounded by an awful smell. The Catholic volunteers washed her hair, body and clothes, cleaned her house, and talked with her as if she were a family member,” she recalled.
Soon Ngan secured a job at a daycare center run by Lovers of the Holy Cross sisters in Hue.
Lucia Le Kim Oanh, a Catholic volunteer, said that inspired by her friends, Ngan also began sharing food with garbage collectors on the streets and raising funds to support poor patients in hospitals.
Oanh, 36, a member of a local secular institute, said Ngan decided to convert to Catholicism only recently after she attended a Lent retreat in 2020.
Ngan studied catechism on a weekly basis at the daycare center before she could embrace the new religion. “I believe God chose me and created opportunities for me to follow him without displeasing my family,” she said.
Ngan was brought up in a religious family that practiced Buddhism and she was named Thoai Hang, a religiously significant name by Buddhist family. She would be sent to take refuge in a local pagoda. Among her close relatives were a monk and a nun.
Her family had initially tried to prevent her from being friends with the Catholics for fear that she may be imparted Christian teachings.
But in early January this year, when she and her mother were infected with Covid-19, her mother had a vision. “She had raging fevers and awful nightmares about being chased by someone with a knife. Then she was crushed under a large rock and an angel pushed the rock away to save her,” Ngan said.
Both she and her mother were taken to Binh Dien Hospital for treatment. “My close friend Sister Mary Vu Thi Ha provided my mother with daily loving care and treated her like her own mother; consequently, my mother recovered soon,”
Ngan said Sister Ha from the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation had volunteered to serve Covid-19 patients at the hospital.
“My mother remains extremely grateful to Catholic volunteers for saving her. She carries a positive image of them in her mind now. So much so, she even consented to my embracing the religion,” Ngan said. “On my part, I experienced God’s love for us during the hard times in the hospital.”
“I feel that I am of God, who is my lover. I feel happy, strong, courageous and peaceful as a Catholic"
Ngan was administered baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist on Feb. 12, her birthday. Although her mother could not attend due to ill health, it “was a truly memorable event in my life," she said.
“I feel that I am of God, who is my lover. I feel happy, strong, courageous and peaceful as a Catholic," Ngan said.
Ngan was baptized with the Christian name Lucia at Thuy Duong Subparish’s Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Oanh, who became her godmother, is also a member of the subparish that has some 45 Catholics among a population of 12,500.
Ngan said she will soon join the Lovers of the Holy Cross Association for laypeople so that she has opportunities to strengthen her faith. She also plans to invite her Catholic friends and sisters to a party at her home so that her family members get to know them well.
Father Joseph Pham Dinh Toan who is in charge of courses in marriage preparation in Hue Archdiocese, said each year some 900 adults join the archdiocese.
The local church held three catechumen classes during Easter 2021 and some 300 adults were baptized.
But Father Toan said that due to the prolonged pandemic, the archdiocese could not hold any formal catechumen classes for Easter this year.
Hue Archdiocese serves 66,000 Catholics at 95 parishes out of a population of two million in the two provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue.
By UCA News reporter