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Even For Only One Day
About a priest who credits the Blessed Virgin for saving him

Jailed in a Vietnamese prison, he was beaten, accused of evangelizing and not telling on others. He was once punched so hard in the chest that the blow rendered him unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he was allowed to go to his hut, where he lay down. It hurt so much on one side that he turned to the other side, which hurt even more. In his pain he couldn't sleep at night. He prayed the Rosary, one after another, petitioning God: "O Lord Jesus heal me so that I can go back home to be ordained a priest in secret even for only one day and saying one Mass and uniting all my pains and humiliations, all kinds of starvations and tortures with all those of yours in the chalice for my offering to God. That would be more than enough for me." He was sore but he was healed, and he believed God saved his life through Mary.

His name was Vien Van Do. He had been put on "popular trial" without any chance to defend himself and put in a concentration camp. He said they were worked like buffaloes -- the Asian water buffalo kind -- but fed like mice. He was hungry for food but hungered even more to become a priest. As a boy, a priest and some nuns wanted him to go to a high school seminary, but his parents declined, saying "We only have one boy." He had seven sisters but at the time he was the only son. When a younger brother was born, it allowed him to go into the seminary.

After being imprisoned for 3 1/2 years they released him. But even though he went home with his parents, he was still under "house arrest." He was still incarcerated in his lack of freedom.

One day the local government gave him permission to visit a cousin for ten days, who lived farther in the jungle, nearer to neighboring Laos. When he didn't get home on time, the authorities sent twenty policemen to find him to put him back in prison. While they were searching for him, he returned by another route through the jungle. It was dangerous, but he walked for ten hours through the jungle in the dark, to enable him to catch a bus home. He heard the noises of creatures who inhabited the jungle. He prayed, "O Lord I am ready to be devoured by the lion, the tiger or big bear, or be killed by some poisonous snake, but please don't let me fall into the hand of the Communist." With some humor he thanked God that "the wild animals were well fed" and didn't like him.

He prayed the Rosary, one after another, and said, "O Blessed Mother Mary, O Lady of Lavang, you are the morning and night star, guide me and lead me home safe!" (Lavang refers to the reported apparition of Mary during a time of persecution and killing of Catholics in Vietnam)

In the dim, nocturnal light with the stars, he found the main road, and walking on, came to a bridge. Half way over the structure, it suddenly became dark. He stopped, reached down, touching around. Probing, he was not able to feel the bridge in front of him. He walked back, and found a trail beside the bridge that led down to where he could cross the shallow river. From the down below, he looked up, peering through the darkness. Fifteen feet above he could make out that the bridge was half gone. It had been bombed, and below it, he could discern many sharp poles, pointing up. If he'd kept walking, he believes he could've fallen to his death. Perhaps he breathed a heartfelt prayer, something like this in his native tongue: "O Cảm ơn Chúa, cám ơn Mẹ Maria." (O thank you God, thank you Mother Mary ). He believes through Mary, God saved him a second time.

A year after this incident, he escaped from his native Vietnam in a boat, embarking at An Bang, 15 miles southeast of Hue.   He acquired a Navy compass for deep water navigation. For nine days and nights as one of the boat people, he had to navigate on the open sea, up through the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam and through the strait between the China and the island of Hainan. Keeping track of the right direction, he couldn't slumber like the others but watched, sleep-deprived. They had a handful of rice to eat twice a day. Their small boat was made of bamboo and caulked with tar, yet seaworthy. There were fourteen children and ten adults aboard.

In the strait between the Hainan and the Chinese mainland, a little storm arose and the waters swirled about. He said everyone thought they were going to die. Water splashed into the vessel, and they used caps or anything else to bail it out.  A wind-blown swell would push the boat up high and then drop it down into a trough between the cresting waves. Through the bad and windy weather he prayed the Rosary. In heartfelt prayer He reminded God that He saved his life in prison, and in the jungle where he could've fallen to his death from the bridge. It didn't make sense to him that he would now be killed, yet in humility he said it was okay because "I am a sinful man," but would He let the innocent children die, too?

He prayed, "If you let me survive, I will continue my vocation to serve you and your people to the best of my ability."

(Courtesy of Divine Word College, Epworth, Iowa and Fr. Dominic Nguyen, SVD)

Finally, the fury of the storm let up, and surviving it, they floated into more tranquil waters, eventually reaching Hong Kong, farther up the Asian coastline. It had been quite a voyage and he was very tired. He believed God had saved him for a third time through Mary's hands. His sister Phong, who used to bring him things in prison, was not as fortunate. She and her husband left Vietnam in a boat but were lost at sea, a sadness for him.

In 1987 he would come to America, and continue studies at a seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. The Vietnamese government had not allowed him to be ordained, but in 1990, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Myers at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois.

God granted more than his plea made in prison. Not for just a day and one Mass, but He granted him much more. Presently Father Vien, has been ordained for around 26 years, saying one, two, three Masses in a day, and on occasion, even four.  His Masses have multiplied into the thousands.

In October 2009, Father Vien was travelling north of Peoria on Route 40 one night, with the car on cruise control. He was praying the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, when a large deer jumped out from the ditch, hitting his car. He was uninjured but his vehicle wasn't. It was totally damaged in front and all the lights were broken except for a small one on the driver's side. He credits God for saving his life for a fourth time through Mary.

But there he was in the dark again. The car's steering mechanism was damaged, wasn't working right, and he couldn't turn properly. He could still drive forward, or in Navy terms go fore and aft. He continued on toward Wyoming where he was in residence. There were places on the road where he had to turn. When he came to these, he maneuvered his car by going back and forth until he could negotiate it forward and continue on, eventually reaching town.

Now, so far from from his native Vietnam, he serves in two parishes here in Illinois: St. Mary's in Metamora and the nearby country church of St. Mary of Lourdes. When he stands there at the altar, it may also serve to remind us of his plea in prison.

The one who fled Vietnam years ago, navigating a bamboo boat in the waters off Asia, and even through stormy seas, now navigates the troubled waters of America, with Father Gregory Jozefiak at these two local churches, both part of the Bark of Peter. The contrary winds of our times, clouding the sky of our country and disturbing the waters, blow forth various error, including the abortion mentality, sexual permissiveness and gender disorientation. And with Father Gregory, he still navigates with a compassa moral compass pointing the way for their parishioners.

                                                                                            —John Riedell

Picture credit: The art above was a gift to Divine Word College (Epworth, Iowa) from Fr. Dominic Nguyen, SVD. One interpretation is that it shows the Blessed Mother and Jesus guiding "boat people" fleeing their country after the Vietnam War. Another is they are guiding the Vietnamese Catholic Church, depicted as the boat, through stormy waters.

Author's note: Speaking before an Altar and Rosary Society, Father Vien said, "Everything is God's miracle, miracle after miracle." He said God gave him "one of the greatest gifts -- the gift of the priesthood -- the power to make Himself present to his people." Truly a great gift. There's a lesson to be seen in his life.

 

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