Justin Chung ’19
This is the seventh in a series of interviews conducted by Justin Chung. Justin is a junior at Bellarmine College Preparatory and an active parishioner at Holy Korean Martyrs Parish.
Father Andrew C. Nguyen was born and raised in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. as he began high school. Prior to his departure, his father passed away. “In high school I was a very studious guy… I [had] just come from Vietnam [with] my dad’s desires and intention [for us] to have a good life and good education. We were very poor… we honored his requests and focused on school all the time, not having much fun.”
At the age of 11, Father Nguyen attended Mass every day, not as a Christ-seeking individual, but to avoid doing house chores. Nevertheless, the routine significantly impacted his life after a key moment. “One day after Mass I was kneeling there looking at the tabernacle and said, ‘God, when I grow up I promise I’ll be a priest.”’
As he came to America the thought left his mind amidst the new transition and a focus on studying. However, at World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada in 2002, this memory was rekindled. “I went with youth from the parish and I saw Pope John Paul II. He was very weak, he was dying and he came out for the young people… that made me think about the priesthood again and I kept thinking about it when I came back.”
Father Nguyen continued the search for his vocation within his community. “I shared with a priest that I had a promise when I was younger and he said ‘No, son. God is the one who calls you. Let me take that promise away from you so you don’t have to fulfill it… you need somebody to guide you.’”
A Franciscan priest volunteered to help Father Nguyen. They spoke over the phone on multiple occasions. One day, he gave a packet of a sermon retreat held at the local seminary, but Father Nguyen felt hesitant to attend. “I thought to myself whether or not I should go and I asked God for a sign, a bright cross. I gave God 24 hours. I saw crosses, but I didn’t see any bright ones in our house and then in the last of the 24 hours, I turned on the TV and saw a bright cross on one of those biblical channels, there was the sign.”
Father Nguyen immediately heard, ‘If anyone wishes to follow me he has to deny himself, take up the cross, and follow me.’
At the retreat, Father Nguyen spent the weekend listening for God’s call through music, readings, and a series of activities. Afterwards, he persisted and read a book given by a member of the Legion of Mary. This entire process helped Father Nguyen reaffirm his discernment and quell his doubts.
Currently, Father Nguyen is Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of La Vang Parish and receives sustenance from the Eucharist. “The more I am a priest, the more I can say with conviction the Eucharist is real. When I visit people who are dying, people who have cancer… you wish you could do something at the end of the day and that’s what I do. I do adoration and give them up to God. Then afterwards I sense peace and lightweight in my heart.”
He also is sustained by the Sacraments. “What inspired me to become a priest was the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the time I met the Franciscan priest and afterwards I felt peaceful and joyful. I wanted to serve as an instrument of God, being a bridge to connect people back to God.”
“There are many times when I anoint people and they die right after. It seems like they’re waiting for it and it just reminds me that the sacrament is real and if they needed it, God will allow them to receive it. Experiences like that, though stressful and worrisome, really console you and give you peace.”
Father Nguyen feels privileged by the trust shown to him. “What I really enjoy in the priesthood is that people trust you. They pour out their heart and soul to you their problems and struggles. They come to you for advice. They share with you things they wouldn’t share with their husband or their wife or their children or their parents, and it’s very painful for them to go through all that.
You’re just a stranger and yet they come… so I feel very honored and privileged… It’s not a coincidence that we [priests] are here and there… God uses us to be there and be His presence towards people so I really believe in it and see why God uses us to be there to comfort and console.”
My conversation with Father Nguyen helped me realize the broader picture in my life. Focusing on day-to-day, trivial issues blinds my eye from a true sense of direction in my spiritual life. To discover the footsteps laid by God, I ought to seek him, listen, and actively pursue my faith.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6