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Oct 21, 2022 164 Father Peter Hung Tran, Australia
Encounter

The Tempestuous Road to the Altar

When God calls us, He also gives us the strength to overcome any obstacles that come the way. Read the amazing story of how Father Peter Tran clung to God when assailed by the storms of life

In April 1975, the lives of Vietnamese people who live in the South were changed forever when Communists took over the country. More than a million South Vietnamese soldiers had been captured and imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the country, while hundreds of thousands of clergy, seminarians, nuns, monks and brothers were detained in jails and re-education centers so they could be brainwashed. About 60% of them died in the camps, where they were never allowed to receive visits from their families or friends. They lived as though they had been forgotten.

A War-Torn Nation

I was born in the 1960s, during the war, just after the Americans arrived in my country. I was brought up during the fight between the North and the South, so it formed the backdrop of my childhood. By the time the war ended, I had nearly finished secondary school. I did not really understand what it was all about but I was very sad to see so many people grieving for all their loved ones who had been killed or imprisoned.

When the Communists took over our country, everything was turned upside down. We lived in fear under constant persecution for our faith. There was virtually no freedom at all. We did not know what would happen to us tomorrow. Our fate was totally in the hands of Communist Party members.

Answering God’s Call

In these inauspicious circumstances, I felt the call of God. Initially, I reacted against it strongly, because I knew it was impossible for me to follow that call. First of all, there was no seminary where I could study for the priesthood. Secondly, it would not only be dangerous for me, but also for my family, who would be punished if the government found out. And ultimately, I felt unworthy to become a disciple of Jesus. However, God has His own way to bring about His plan, so I joined the (underground) seminary in 1979. Sixteen months later, the local police discovered that I wanted to become a priest and so I was conscripted into the army.

I hoped that I might be released after 4 years, so I could return to my family and my studies, but during my training a friend warned me that we were being sent to fight in Kampuchea. I knew that 80% of the soldiers who went to fight in Kampuchea never returned. I was so terrified at the prospect that I made plans to desert, despite the perilous risks. Although I escaped successfully, I was still in danger. I couldn’t endanger my family by returning home, so I was continually on the move, in constant fear that somebody would see me and report me to the police.

Fleeing for Life

After a year of this daily terror, with no end in sight, my family told me that, for the safety of everyone, I must attempt to escape from Vietnam. One day, after midnight, I followed secret directions to creep to a small wooden fishing boat, where fifty people had gathered to squeeze on board to run the gauntlet of the Communist patrols. From young children to the elderly, we held our breaths and each other’s hands until we were safely out in the open sea. But our troubles had only just begun. We only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, and had little idea of where to head to get there.

Our escape was full of hardships and perils. We spent four days in terrible weather, tossed about in a rough sea. At one stage, we had given up all hope. We doubted that we would be able to survive the next storm, and believed that we would never arrive at our destination, as we were at the mercy of the sea which seemed to be driving us nowhere, and we couldn’t work out where we were. All we could do was entrust our lives to God’s Providence. All this time, He had us under His protection. We couldn’t believe our good fortune when we finally found refuge on a small island in Malaysia, where I spent eight months in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia.

Standing Strong

Having endured such terrors, I finally discovered that “After rain comes sunshine”. We have a traditional saying, “a flow will have an ebb”. Everyone in life must have some gloomy days to contrast with the days of joy and contentment. Perhaps it is a rule of human life. No one from birth can be free of all sorrows. Some are physical, some are mental, and some are spiritual. Our sorrows differ from each other, but almost everyone will have a taste. However, sorrows themselves cannot kill a human being. Only the lack of will to continue in surrender to God’s will can discourage someone so much that they seek shelter in illusory joys, or choose suicide in a vain attempt to escape from sorrow. I feel fortunate that I have learnt, as a Catholic, to trust God entirely with my life. I believe that He will assist me whenever I am in trouble, especially when it seems that I am out of options, encircled by enemies. I have learned by experience to seek shelter with God, the shield and stronghold of my life. Nothing can harm me when He is by my side (Psalm 22).

New Life in a New Land

When I arrived in Australia, I threw myself into studying English so that I could follow the longing in my heart to keep studying for the priesthood. It was not easy for me in the beginning, living in such a completely different culture. Often, I couldn’t find the right words to convey my thoughts without being misunderstood. Sometimes I felt like screaming loudly in frustration. Without family, or friends, or money, it was difficult to start a new life. I felt lonely and isolated, with little support from anyone, except God.

He has always been my companion, giving me strength and courage to continue persevering despite all the obstacles. His light has guided me through the darkness, even when I failed to recognize His presence. Everything I have achieved is by His grace and I will never cease to be grateful to Him for calling me to follow Him.

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Father Peter Hung Tran

Father Peter Hung Tran has a doctorate in Moral Theology, and is currently working at the University of Western Australia and St Thomas More College as a Catholic Chaplain.

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