Christ calls, Asians respond

Japan

‘Keep your Catholic faith until the end of your life’

By Asami Ohmoto

March 06, 2022 10:40 PM

Phung Van Hai was thinking about marrying a Catholic woman whom he had met at his job as a delivery worker.

‘Keep your Catholic faith until the end of your life’

Phung Van Hai was thinking about marrying a Catholic woman whom he had met at his job as a delivery worker.

"I wanted to have faith in the same religion as she," he said.

And so, he first went to the Kawaguchi Church in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, in November 2019.

Hai, who is now 27 years old, came to Japan from Vietnam six years ago as a student, having borrowed money in his home country to cover expenses for his studies abroad.

After coming to Japan, he worked part-time while studying at a Japanese language school for two years and then studied design at a vocational school for three years.

During that time, he got less than two hours of sleep each day. His monthly income was about ¥80,000 yen (US $700). Besides living off that, he sent money to his family in Vietnam to pay off his debt.

"My house was poor, but I had no choice except to work hard,” he said. “During those five years studying, my weight dropped from 70 kilograms to 55."

After his struggle, Hai graduated from the vocational school and found a job in a supermarket firm, doing long-distance deliveries that sometimes involve three days and two nights on the road.

At work he met D, a Vietnamese technical intern trainee.

Eventually, they began to think about marriage, but the biggest problem was religious differences. Hai, who grew up in a Buddhist family, told his parents online that he wanted to marry D and "be baptized Catholic." His parents respected their son's feelings and agreed.

However, though his father was supportive, he said he had one warning: "Faith is important in life, so if you are baptized just as a formality for the sake of marrying but don't have true faith, that's a problem. Keep your Catholic faith until the end of your life."

However, the shock when Hai visited Kawaguchi Church for the first time and participated in Mass was more than he had anticipated. He was depressed because he couldn't understand the content and format of the Mass at all. But his fiancée continued to encourage him.

From February 14, 2020, Hai began attending an introductory course led by Sister Maria Le Thi Lang, a Vietnamese Vincentian Sister based at the Kawaguchi Church.

Because the Corona pandemic prevented face-to-face classes, from April, Hai and Sr. Maria started using an “Online Catechetical Course" and an "Online Marriage Course" that are each offered in three-month sessions four times a year.

One day, Hai was moved by a question Sr. Maria asked: "Who are you?" For Hai, the question meant, "Who is God?"

As Hai continued pondering the matter he and D experienced deep sadness when she became pregnant at the end of last year and miscarried immediately.

'No matter how much I cried or reflected, I couldn't comfort her,” he said. “All I could do was just pray for her. I could only pray."

Praying to be able to accept the reality, his sorrow, and his pain, Hai felt "the presence of a warm God who is close to us." It was “the moment when I met God."

Rather than avoid their suffering, the couple chose “the way of trust in Jesus” to recover. After about a month and a half, they found they could resume some sort of normal life.

Hai says he realizes that he has changed to "live with trust in God" and as "a self who treats others with compassion and respect."

Hai shared his experience with others in the "Online Catechetical Course." He says that when he shared, he was greatly encouraged by the existence of a Church community that wept with him and rejoiced with him. It gave him the power to live.

Hai explained his dream: "I want to help people who like me don't know God to know God’s presence,"

Hun Van Hai will be baptized at the Easter Vigil on April 16.

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