Thursday, January 15, 2009

From Vietnamese Refugee Boat To U.S. To Priesthood

From Vietnam to Mesa: A refugee’s journey to the priesthood

By Lynanne Lasota | January 15, 2009 | The Catholic Sun

Legionary of Christ Father Peter Dai Bui, born in South Vietnam, found himself on a refugee boat destined for the United States at 6.

There began the journey that brought Fr. Bui to be the associate pastor at Christ the King Parish in Mesa — a journey fraught with joys, sorrows, adventures, fears and even escapes from persecution.

Fr. Bui’s mother, Lan, and father, Thien, fled to the south when North Vietnam became communist.

Lan bore child after child. The devout Catholic couple was blessed with seven daughters. Then Lan became pregnant with number eight.

“My parents thought seven daughters were enough for them. They wanted a boy in the family,” Fr. Bui said.

While pregnant, Fr. Bui’s mother went to a grotto of the Blessed Virgin.

“There before Our Blessed Mother, she knelt and offered the baby that she was carrying in her womb praying, ‘Mother, if you give me a son, I will consecrate him to you,’” Fr. Bui said. Several months later the first baby boy in the family was born. Through the years two more sons and two more daughters graced the family.

Fr. Bui’s mother didn’t tell him of this consecration until the day he was ordained a priest in Rome Dec. 24, 2003 — a day she surely saw coming.

As a young boy in Vietnam, Fr. Bui walked up and down a dirt road with his parents for daily Mass. At 4, he would memorize and recite the eucharistic prayer on his way home. When he got together with his friends, he sliced up a banana and played Mass. He would use a comb and a glass of water to sprinkle his friends with “holy water.”

On Dec. 21, 1977, Lan pretended to take the younger children on a picnic. Thien said he would take the older ones fishing and the two oldest daughters, who were married and had children, would stay behind to throw off suspicion.

The family climbed over a hill to a small boat waiting to take 49 refugees to Thailand. When authorities found out the family had escaped, they sent the sisters and their husbands off to forced labor for a year. Fr. Bui would not see his sisters again for more than 30 years.

The Bui family came to live in New Orleans. As Fr. Bui grew, he decided to join the Legionaries of Christ and spent 12 years of priestly formation with them.

While in seminary, Fr. Bui questioned whether he could be a good priest because of his fear of public speaking. During the month of May each seminarian was required to give a talk in praise of the Virgin Mary. Fr. Bui used this to see if God was truly calling him.

“I learned when you truly love someone like our Blessed Mother any difficulty can be overcome,” Fr. Bui said.

During his novitiate, he would visit a large statue of Mary in the courtyard to tell her about his day and say goodnight.

After ordination, Fr. Bui spent the first three years of his priesthood as chaplain of 950 students in a private Catholic school in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2006, he was assigned associate pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Queen Creek and in June 2008 reassigned to Christ the King in Mesa.

Fr. Steven Kunkel, pastor of Christ the King, recognized Fr. Bui’s gifts to the community.

“He’s an extremely gifted homilist,” he said. He is also glad to have the first Spanish-speaking priest in his parish who also understands the Hispanic culture.

Fr. Bui continues to receive affirmation from God of his service to Christ and the Church. In February 2008, he flew with his mother to Vietnam to reunite with his oldest sisters.

Before the trip, he helped a Vietnamese parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe find her family. Fr. Bui’s cousin, a private investigator, searched for Luot Dailey’s family. Within a few weeks and with sketchy information, he found Dailey’s oldest sister, Hoi.

“Hoi called us the day after Christmas 2007 and we flew to Vietnam with Fr. Bui to meet her for the first time after 37 years,” said Ron Dailey, Luot’s husband. “It was a blessing.”

But Fr. Bui took more from the visit to his country of birth.

He marveled at the devotion of the Vietnamese people who woke early every morning to attend Mass at 4 a.m. He wants the people he serves to have this same hunger for the sacraments.

“Deep down in the heart of every person we long for true happiness,” Fr. Bui said. “The problem is we look in the wrong places for it and I want people to look to Him.”

No comments: