A Vocation Story
By Richard Vu
Archdiocese of Atlanta
My grandparents, parents, and many Vietnamese Catholics left everything behind in their exile from North Vietnam to South Vietnam in 1954. Then again, in 1975, many Vietnamese Catholics left everything behind in their exile from Vietnam to many different places throughout the world. Those who stayed and experienced war eventually left as years passed. Many Vietnamese sought refuge in the United States during this period.
People call this country a “melting pot” that offers everyone many great opportunities, such as jobs, education, and religious freedom. For many immigrants and refugees, even me, the “American dream” is an education, a job, a home, and family.
Each of us has our own dream. I remember in 1997 when I took a road trip from Seattle to Atlanta. One might ask why I chose Atlanta or why I went to the Deep South. I always smile with the answer, because it was Christ who asked His disciples to lower their nets and go deeper. On my trip, I spent a few days in each state to see the beauty that creation and nature offer to us. It took me a month to get to Atlanta.
The Gospel of John 15:13 is often in my head: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” With this passage, the memories of my childhood come back to me. As a child, I had a dream of someday becoming a missionary, to travel and reach out to others as Christ reached out to each one of us when he hung on the Cross.
Looking back on my life, I can see that things happen for a purpose. Through each and every event in my life, Christ has walked with me. In my early twenties, I told myself that what I wanted was to follow a religious missionary way of life. My heart was ready, but my mind said “not yet.” At the time, I was too young for this kind of commitment. So I found a job in Atlanta and volunteered in a Vietnamese parish. I taught Vietnamese language, customs, and traditions; I also organized and coordinated a lot of activities, such as campouts, sporting events, and Vietnamese festivals. I thought to myself, what else can I ask for in a life that is so wonderful. God is so good.
Once again, Christ came knocking on my door in fall 1999. At the end of one of my Vietnamese classes, one of the teenagers asked me why, in the Gospel of Matthew (11:29), it says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Like some young adults, I thought that, if it was that easy, why did people hang Christ on the Cross? That night, there was a tiny whispering sound in my ears that entered into my heart, and made me think about how hard it is to recognize the true path of life.
Shortly afterward, I decided I would look into different religious communities. The choice of Divine Word Missionary came to me as a surprise; I learned of it after I visited my cousin in New Orleans. He was the one who introduced it to me, and I joined this missionary group in 2001. The Divine Word College’s staff and faculty were like my parents who held my hand at the beginning of childhood and who taught me how to walk.
After I graduated from Divine Word College, I became a Novice and contemplated the Word of God and the path for my life. As a Novice ministering on the South Side of Chicago, I learned some of the realities of the American Dream. The poor, sick, and suffering – people of different ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds – were always with us. I experienced many things that helped to deepen my understanding of my call to become a priest. One especially important event was a thirty-day silent retreat, which gave me a chance to look in the mirror and reflect on my journey of faith. I realized then that my vocation is as a diocesan priest, even though religious missionary work was my first love.
I joined the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2008. I feel peaceful and confident, and my heart is at home in Atlanta. I am grateful that there are many people who have walked into my life and left footprints that will never fade away. Deep inside, most of us would like the same things: we want to be loved, and we want someone to care about. In the water of baptism, we are reminded that we are not born in vain, nor do we journey entirely alone. May we all find peace in our hearts.