Luan Vu had doors shut on him in Vietnam, but St. Joseph Seminary welcomed him.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Luan Vu had doors shut on him in Vietnam, but St. Joseph Seminary welcomed him.

May 27, 2013
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

As a young boy growing up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Luan Vu used to dream of becoming a priest. He yearned to wear their priestly garb and do what priests do.

When he caught his pastor eating chicken wings at the rectory one day, he jokingly thought, "I need to be a priest to eat chicken wings."

His day would come, he thought, but when he tried to join the seminary years later, the Vietnamese government denied his application. After numerous denials, Vu lost hope, but God then opened a door.

One day, out of the blue, he received a letter from Edmonton Archbishop Thomas Collins, now cardinal-archbishop of Toronto, inviting him to study for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary. Collins had learned about Vu through a Vietnamese pastor serving in St. Paul.

After nine years of studies, Vu, 44, is now joyfully waiting for his ordination at St. Joseph's Basilica July 5.

"I will try to be a good priest, a holy priest that serves his people well," Vu said in a recent interview. In Vietnam priests enjoy a high social status and are generally detached from their flocks.

Vu vows to be open and welcoming. "Priests are supposed to be servants of the people of God," he points out.

To be sure, Vu caught his faith from his devoted parents who would drag their nine children to Mass every day at 4 a.m. They also went for Eucharistic Adoration almost every night.

"I grew up in a family with a very strong faith in God," he proudly says. "That helped me a lot in my vocation." At an early age Vu became an altar boy and joined the children's choir. His school was next to the church so during breaks he would run there to pray.

After the Vietnam War, in 1975, Vu's family moved to a rural community "with a lot of Catholic people where I learned a lot from the older people." His parish had around 5,000 people.

ROLE MODEL

At age 10 he already wanted to become a priest. Seeing his cousin in a seminarian's cassock made him desire the priesthood even more. "He was my model and I wanted to be like him."

However, life took its course and after high school Vu went to university and became a teacher. He taught junior high school for seven years.

In 1995 he decided to apply for seminary formation, which is controlled by the government. They rejected his application numerous times. After the fifth time, government officials warned Vu not to apply anymore.

"I was 10 years waiting to be a seminarian," he recalls. "I thought I would have to quit my vocation."

That wasn't God's desire. Vu received Collins' invitation shortly after his final rejection. "I was so happy because I was very disappointed after the government had said 'no' to me. I realized then that God never gives up."

Vu says he loves his vocation to the priesthood. "That's why when I arrived here (in 2004) I had to overcome a lot of trouble with language, culture, food and even the weather in order to fulfill God's plan for me," Vu says.

"God challenged me but God rewarded me. People here love me and support me in many ways."

He is planning to return to Vietnam in the future to see his parents and siblings. He said the government will allow him to visit but he is not sure if he can celebrate Mass.

"I would have to ask for permission to say Mass because they don't recognize me as a priest."

Things have improved in Vietnam in the past couple of years "but still there is government control." About seven per cent of the population in Vietnam is Catholic.

Vu was ordained a provisional deacon last August. Since then he has been assisting Father Patrick Baska at St. Edmund's and St. Angela's parishes every weekend. Every three weeks he delivers the homily at five Masses in both parishes.

Previously Vu had done his year-long internship at St. Matthew Parish in Rocky Mountain House.