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Years of suffering grew faith, brings year of gratitude for priest

This article concludes a special series on personal testimonies during the Year of Faith, which ends Nov. 24, 2013.

This Year of Faith was a year of victory for Msgr. Peter Quang Nguyen, V.F.

For the years the Denver priest spent jailed, tortured and persecuted in his native Vietnam in the communist 1980s, he spent the year giving thanks to God for the strong faith it engrained in him.

“From an altar server in Vietnam and now here I am in the United States—the Year of Faith is really a year of celebration for me because it’s a triumph of the faith,” said Msgr. Quang, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver. “The endurance from that time of suffering and difficulty—I believe that God had trained me.”

Suffering became an opportunity to strengthen his faith, which in turn enables him to spread and build the faith of his parishioners today, he said.

It began in his homeland when Msgr. Quang discerned a vocation to the priesthood and entered the seminary. With other seminarians, he put his faith and prayer into action, he said, by spending weekends rebuilding poor communities.

But the oppressive communist regime bore down on religion and closed the seminary. He and other Catholics attempted to flee but they were captured and jailed.

The jail became fertile ground for prayer and an awareness of God’s presence.

“It seemed like every moment of life, when contemplating the suffering of people, it strengthened the life of prayer and hopefully the work of charity,” Msgr. Quang said. “Faith had become a source of comfort for people; it strengthened the people looking forward to the good to come.”

The seminarians secretly became catechists and led people in prayer. Some would meet in the jungles to teach, only to pack and flee if the warning signals—typically a frog sound or dog bark—told them someone was coming.

“When we heard that signal, that meant we had to wrap it up and run away,” he said. “When the police came, they saw people gathered for prayer but not catechism.”

Some of the captured priests secretly celebrated Mass using consecrated hosts smuggled in through containers of rice and powered soap. The youths became extraordinary ministers of Communion and took Eucharist to the homebound or those in the jungle. Sometimes seminarians worked together to prepare couples for the sacrament of marriage in the absence of a priest, he said.

“Faith became the foundation to make sense of the life of suffering,” Msgr. Quang said. “During those times, I grew in the awareness of God’s presence a little more strongly.”

After several attempts to escape, Msgr. Quang was successful and eventually found himself in the Denver Archdiocese.

In America, the struggle for faith is quiet, he said. Living in a free society creates a challenge that demands faithful to know and love the faith.

“For the Catholic without the knowledge and love of faith, it is easy to fall into temptation,” he said.

Cultivating a love of faith must begin with each person, he said.

He encouraged such love this year by encouraging the youths of his parish to sacrifice their time, talents, prayers or treasures as an “offering of faith and love for Jesus.”

Faithful can make similar acts of love and seek to grow and develop it.

“Sometimes the life of faith seems so strong but sometimes so dark and scary and frustrating. Don’t give up,” he said. “We have to make a pilgrimage where we go back into our own heart and make a journey from outside of the world into the inner sanctuary and encounter the holiness of God in our hearts.”

Using this encounter, faithful can share the gift of their faith.

“From that point of view, we should share that experience of faith.”

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