Looking for the Messiah


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“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is what I’ve been playing in my head over and over again. In pain and sadness, I cried out those words looking for someone or something to save me.

The intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of life: What am I missing?

I continued the search for that someone or something by repeating: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen.”

These are the only two prayers available in my already-limited knowledge of the Catholic faith. “Lord Jesus, have mercy” is a snippet I recently learned from a news article. The Hail Mary is something I picked up when I happened to walk into a prayer session in Nha Trang City. I chanted the words desperately and – perhaps – superficially. For I wanted God’s help but at the same time wasn’t sure if He would be the one.

Was God there with me? Is He now? Or will He ever be? I wished I had maintained that precious joy when a friend called me “daughter of God.”

My work, relationship and family life culminated in darkness. My body became strained, so much so that I thought my intellect was gone. As a person who despises emotions, I felt unable to cry and instead had to see my tears coming out, on and off.

“So what is left for me?” I made the first step into self-pity. I saw no intellectual, emotional or physical aspect of life. “But can I have God then?” The moment I realized I didn’t even have a strong faith or a fatherly figure to turn to, I fell into both chaos and despair.

I’ve never had a spiritual life because I was such a good student of the formal education that taught people one dangerous thing: Being religious is un-cool. Faith is for the weak and the talentless. Religion is a cover for politics.

So that’s the obstacle. Even when I know those tenets of my secular education are completely nonsense, it’s still hard to build up my faith. I’m not an agnostic because I actively want to believe in God’s existence. He exists, right? But where? Can Christ show himself to me?

Looking for the Messiah

On Tuesday I listened to an episode of the Catholic Catechism before going to bed. Half awake, I carried the word “Christ” into my sleep. Getting up, I recalled the catechist explaining “Christ” as “the Messiah.”

“I gotta find Him,” I said to myself, knowing that I wouldn’t want to live in sadness forever. “Let me see the Messiah.”

So at 5pm I rushed to the nearest church that offered a late-afternoon Mass. It was the Thuan Phat Church of the Saigon Archdiocese.

About 80 parishioners were already there when I arrived. “Eighty people for a weekday Mass. There must be something great about this church,” I thought.

The priest said Mass with the help of two altar girls and two nuns, the whole process of which lasted for 30 minutes. I wasn’t as captivated as I’d hoped to be.

But something was piercing my chest when I saw people coming near the altar to receive Holy Communion. I couldn’t participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. I hadn’t enrolled in a catechism class. I hadn’t received the sacrament of Confirmation.

The image of Blacker from Graham Greene’s The Hint of an Explanation (1948) emerged in my thoughts. As a baker, Blacker wanted to know how the Host tasted different from the bread he produced, so he asked Popey Martin, an altar boy, to steal a piece of the Host for him. But beyond curiosity, Blacker had a yearning for eating the consecrated bread to see “how God tastes like,” although he claimed to hate “the God whom people persisted in crediting.”

“Blacker and I may well break into a church, any church, and steal as much consecrated bread as we could find,” I imagined. But that would be wrong. Blacker hated the Catholics. The baptismal certificate I got the same month I was born doesn’t render me a fully practicing Catholic – not yet.

Ten-year-old Popey Martin turned down Blacker’s offer to exchange an amazing toy for the Host. He had a disposition for upholding the Church’s principles and so grew up to become a priest. “You could [have one of those wafers for Communion] if you were a Catholic,” Popey Martin said, simply. I should listen to him.

I found a shell institution

The Mass ended at 6pm. The majority of the Mass participants stayed to say some more prayers, quietly. I planned to sit inside the church go over the Gospel verses for the day, because when the priest explained them I couldn’t hear him very well.

Then there was some singing. I thought the church was starting an evening event or their choir was having a rehearsal. It turned out, however, that it was some sort of singing mixed with praying from a young man. Everyone else had left. I sat at the far back of the church watching him with complete joy and peace.

“Get out! We’re closing,” the Thuan Phat Church’s security guard shouted, while the prayerful man was on his knees coming closer to the altar. He probably wanted to communicate better with Jesus.

Ignored, the security guard came next to the young man and said even louder, “Hey, you want to stay here forever? Get out so I can lock the doors!”

By 6:15pm, the church was shut. Did the guard not understand the young man’s moment with God? Did he hear Pope Francis say that when a Catholic wants to be with God and yet sees closed church gates, it’s a very bad thing?

Thuan Phat Church, shut by 6:15pm

Thuan Phat Church, shut by 6:15pm

“The security guard is likely employed by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs,” I thought to myself.

Looking for the Messiah, again

The shell institution rattled me and added to the void which I still don’t know how to fill. I went home not in peace.

Was I just exerting my “angst” on how I viewed a local church? I looked up the Gospel verses for the day, hoping that I could find a “loophole” or a way to explain all the wrongs I saw with the world.

Wednesday, 15th Week of Ordinary Time – Gospel Mt 11:25-27:

“At that time Jesus exclaimed: I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal.”

It struck me that I couldn’t find the Father – Lord of heaven and earth – because I had never been among the childlike. How can one expect to have a dad when she doesn’t consider herself a child? God endowed us with reason. So I’m free to pursue logic and invest in my intellect, especially in a society like Vietnam, which is heavily driven by personal relationships and emotions. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to keep up with the intellectual realm to the extent that it’s become a prideful enterprise, one that denounces the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of life.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. And I will look for you, again.

Failing to Practice True Charity, I Wish You Faith


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Tong Phuoc Phuoc Tam, 7, looks chubbier and yet exactly as beautiful as the last time I visited her in July this year. Her beauty reminds me of Love (with a capital “L”) and wickedly the 1.2 to 1.6 million abortions recorded throughout Vietnam each year.

An update on the child I adore and the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter

Phuoc Tam – as I’ve learned to love her just by the sound of her name – has lost two teeth, is in second grade and enjoys Mathematics lessons. Being an orphan in the sense that her birth parents abandoned her very early in life, Phuoc Tam still lives at the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter in Nha Trang—a coastal city so far from my home that I can’t afford to visit her as often as I wish.

Phuoc Tam has lost two teeth

Phuoc Tam has lost two teeth

The Shelter is fine and the kids’ conditions have improved a great deal, I heard. Since I came across Blush of Fruit (2012)—a film claimed to document the child abuses where Phuoc Tam lives—I haven’t been able to purchase a DVD or find a way to watch it. My emails to the documentary director have yielded no responses. I have no idea why he has dragged the film around the world, organized many screenings, received quite a few awards and yet shown it to no one in Vietnam.

Frankly, this is mental (which people with the mentality of a colonialist do a lot these days): The nearly two dozens of children at the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter, obviously the film’s subject, have never seen it. Tong Phuoc Phuc himself, accused of being an evil orphanage owner, has never seen it. The Vietnamese people, who are supposed to get involved and solve the problem right on their land, have never seen it.

Bearing both frustration and confusion, I consulted Catholic priest Joseph Le Quang Uy—a prominent figure among Saigon’s pro-life community members. At first I was upset because of his dry comment. “If you keep being skeptical and get trapped in investigating whether the shelter owner is good or evil, you’ll waste time helping no one,” Fr. Uy said.

“Here’s a tip,” he continued while my face lit up, “if the children feel at ease with the shelter owner, it should prove that he’s a good man. Kids don’t lie.” Somehow I became relieved; I’d seen the kids, including Phuoc Tam, give Mr. Phuc many kisses and hugs.

Mr. Phuc is still as determined as ever, when it comes to raising the children himself instead of having them adopted. If he let someone adopt—for example—Phuoc Tam, then one day when her birth mother wants to have her back, she wouldn’t have that chance. This idea, I’m very glad of, but it’s no easy task. Mr. Phuc has a new “hack” though, which he’s learned just recently, after ten years in the fight against abortion: If he succeeds in persuading the mother to breastfeed her baby for two months or more, she will likely bring the child home rather than abandon it.

Another update: Abortion

Five months ago, I learned that Vietnam is number one in Southeast Asia when it comes to abortion among minors. Now the country’s set a new record: It’s ranked first in Asia and fifth in the world for the number of abortions among both minors and adults.

A World Health Organization (May 2014) report estimates that each year in Vietnam, 40 percent of all pregnancies end up being terminated. According to Hanoi’s Central Obstetrics Hospital, of these abortions, up to two-thirds result reportedly from unwanted pregnancies. That means their mothers, fathers or who knows which connections, do not want them (!). That means the reason can be as simple as “too busy to raise a child” and has nothing to do with rape, incest, deformity or the health of the mother/fetus. That means 0.8 to 1.2 million Vietnamese babies are murdered each year for the mere reason that their supposedly loved ones think they’re unworthy of life.

First, it’s lame.

Second, it’s evil.

But throughout the country—believe it or not—the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter is the only non-State actor (thus the full name Cơ Sở Bảo Trợ Xã Hội Ngoài Công Lập Tống Phước Phúc) allowed to have some sort of organized work against abortion, including burying aborted fetuses, sheltering expectant mothers who are neglected by their families and of course raising unwanted and fantastic kids like Phuoc Tam.

Why this dumb situation? A reason is that Catholics are the most steadfast, among all Vietnamese populations that ever have a collective name, in combating abortion and yet—poor you Vietnam—they’re also a source of concern for the Party-State. It’s okay for individuals to do good here and there. But if you uphold a religious value, live in Vietnam and want to come together to do good? Forget it.

After over two decades of straight economic growth, Vietnam is pretty much stuck at the poverty rate of 17.2 percent (even at national poverty lines, as reported by the World Bank in 2012). Poor country, it is, definitely. But at least it has more than enough rice to feed some 90 million Vietnamese. A more rooted form of poverty is poverty of debate. Every default the law professes—even when it’s been written by a legislative body that has nothing other than a name and tangles with a downright corrupt government as well as a bleak judicial branch—we must obey. Whatever they say, we must hold as truth even though they’re too atheistic to be God and too confident to care if truth matters at all.

Soon the Vietnamese National Assembly will pass a law on population, replacing the 2003 Population Ordinance, just to confirm that abortion is legal and also legal when the pregnancy is up to 22 weeks old. That is, it’s fine to kill a human being 5.5 months old in case you simply don’t want him/her. Or is it because poverty is a crime? Aren’t we so poor that our right to debate is taken away? Let’s have the rich do the talking, take care of the superstructure and give us whatever they claim to be self-righteous, shall we? To abort or not to abort—we’re the infrastructure and therefore that’s not our question.

May the meaning of Charity not be corrupt

This week I touched base with Phuoc Tam, although only through a friend. In missing her and wanting to do something fun for her Christmas, I relapsed to the feeling of guilt. I wasn’t miserable, however, for I’ve come to accept that nobody is perfect and only God is.

Is it legitimate to love Phuoc Tam, who I’ve met in person only once? Mom has never protested in words, yet I know if I’d given what I spent on gifts for the girl to my relatives, Mom would be much happier. I don’t relate to any particular relatives and wouldn’t want to do anything for them, which is a shame. At the same time though, why must it always be that “charity begins at home”? Why don’t we instead reach beyond our family and show solidarity with a needy stranger? For this, I have a reason to spoil the little child, whose birth mother is in hiding.

What doesn’t seem right, still, is that I paid all my attention to Phuoc Tam while the other 17 kids at the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter share the same plight. What is even a bit wrong is that I only care for her in my free time and with my disposable income. It looks like giving others someone’s leftovers and that is by no means the Charity (with a capital “C”) taught by Jesus.

These days the meaning of charity has been distorted, so much so that it has come to describe the act of giving away material goods. It has even been contrasted with “philanthropy” and “social investment” all in an imaginary battle against things old-fashioned, stupid, unsustainable, unprofitable—you name it. We’re free to choose our word use, but need not downgrade charity, especially when Charity is a virtue at the very heart of the Catholic foundation. The Latin root of “Charity” is “Caritas,” which connotes a form of divine love infused into the soul urging it to make a commitment to doing good for others. In certain circumstances, Charity requires self-sacrifice, like Jesus dying on the Cross for the salvation of man.

I’m too human and have way too many shortfalls to earn the virtue of Charity the way Jesus preached and practiced it. Nonetheless, as I’m learning to choose reason over emotion, duty over inclination, and universalism over relativism, I hope people will stop the hype and take Charity for what God meant it to be.

If we really love someone, we’d better give them Faith

True Charity—I’m not yet qualified for it. In thinking how I could make up for my mundane act of giving Phuoc Tam just presents, I sent her what I expected to enrich her Faith.


Have Faith

Like Charity, Faith is a theological virtue. Moving forward, as long as I’m alive, I hold it ultimately true that if I love someone, I’d better help them find Faith. Okay to believe generally in goodness, but the best gift I believe one can ever send others is the Faith in a supreme, divine being who reigns over us.

All my life I’d invested heavily in my intellect, which came to the best fruition when a friend called me by my right name (although I’d never heard it before): “Daughter of God”.

I thus hope, the people I hold dearest to my heart will realize, if they haven’t, that they are all Children of God.

What Is Good about Killing and Saving Babies?


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I met Phuoc Tam in Khanh Hoa on Friday last week, when she was playing with her peers. Somewhat influenced by a friend of mine who had told me about this seven-year-old kid, I thought Phuoc Tam is a real angel – cute, shy, beautiful and smiling. The three hours spent with her and the other girls and boys at the Phuoc Phuc Shelter at 56/3 Phuong Sai, Nha Trang City was insanely happy, something I’d never expected to see and something that contrasted with the dream I’d had the day before.

Phuoc Tam smiling

Phuoc Tam smiling!

Haunting Dream

The night prior to visiting the Phuoc Phuc Shelter, I didn’t mean to think much about what I would learn. “Let’s go in with no expectations,” I told myself. The trick is no one can lie to their subconscious.

In a dream, I saw myself speaking with Mr. Phuc, who established the shelter where Phuoc Tam is staying. Before I was allowed to speak to him, however, I was asked by an old man to “kneel down and pray to God desperately” so that He could hear me. Then came Mr. Phuc – gray-haired and sick.

In the middle of our conversation, a kid ran to me and her appearance scared me to death. She had small tumors all over her body, especially the head, where there was no hair whatsoever. Trying to be calm, I reassured her that good things would come and she would be fine.

Another kid joined us. Then two, three, and several more with similar tumor conditions. I ran away panicking, feeling threatened, sad, guilty and hopeless all at the same time. I screamed quietly and woke up at about three o’clock after midnight.

Reality #1: Fantastic Kids

When I arrived at the shelter, the first impression was “How can there be so many beautiful kids in the same place?”

Mr. Phuc, who has no birth relationships with the 11 girls and six boys here and who they call “Daddy,” was preparing for the kids to have a shower before the dinner. I was afraid my presence would disrupt their routine, but was instead welcomed with Five Little Ducks – a song I could sing a long, some kisses and an overwhelming scene of kids running around and sitting on my lap. I still couldn’t stop asking myself, “How come they’re so lovely?”

Although I’d brought a big box of milk for everyone, I had a few dolls for only Phuoc Tam. Stupid was that I didn’t anticipate Phuoc Tam’s peers wanting to have the same things. Khanh Tam cried. An Tam wanted to have a “big doll.” Toan Tam asked me where I’d bought the toys. The girls in Mr. Phuc’s care are all named “Tam” – only their middle names are different. The boys, sharing the same first name of “Vinh,” were funnily aggressive, “Where are my Power Rangers?” Ignoring the literature about orphans trained to be cute and skillfully ask for material donations, I went to the market as an act of self-gratification and did what I’d always deemed superficial, i.e. buying a bunch of playthings for each and every of the little darlings I’d known for less than an hour. And Phuoc Tam is such a nice kid – she shared what she had with her peers before helping me to distribute the newly-bought dolls and Power Rangers.

The oldest of Mr. Phuc’s adopted kids is ten, so they – girls and boys alike – are equally into the world of toys. But when they get older, Mr. Phuc said, he will probably need to, “separate them into different houses – females in one and males in another.”

“How about money? Have you found enough funding to do that?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Mr. Phuc.


Mrs. Tu, one of Mr. Phuc’s siblings who had helped him begin the journey of fighting against abortion back in 2004, asked if I would want to visit the cemetery where they bury unborn babies – the fetuses collected from many hospitals in Khanh Hoa. It was already late in the evening, so I said No.

Although I’m not a practicing Catholic, I’ve always been inclined to love and feel comfortable with everything Catholic, including the religion’s teachings, ideals and principles. When I saw Phuoc Tam and her non-birth siblings sitting in front of an altar and saying their prayers before they went to bed – knowing that they may not have been born without Mr. Phuc taking care of their abandoned mothers – there was a miracle of joy.

For many days in a row, I kept coming back to this joy – already ultimate and yet getting elevated with more thoughts. I stretched my thinking to come up with ways to rightfully praise Mr. Phuc and his effort against abortion.

Perhaps because abortion is legal in Vietnam and due to the puzzling societal deterioration brought about by the “market economy with socialist orientations,” Vietnam – as of this year – is “among the top five countries in the world and ranks first in Southeast Asia in terms of abortion in minors, with 300,000 cases per year on average.” It’s fashionable these days to advocate choice, self-determination and all those trendy concepts in our century of the Self, but I’m downright pro-life, even if this position would risk me losing many people I call friends. Two months ago, a girl told me that giving someone the option of abortion is respecting her right, her individual liberty. But how about the right of the baby? The moment a woman is pregnant, it’s already a human being inside her womb. Putting the right of a woman above that of a baby – isn’t it crazily selfish, especially when the tiny human being has no capacity whatsoever to defend herself/himself?

And so I wished I would be able to do something to contribute to Mr. Phuc’s cause. I rationalized to make him my hero. I admired his initiative of civil society – a truly organic one. I compared his rather spontaneous enterprise with the world of professionalized Non-Governmental Organizations in which I live, accordingly concluding that Mr. Phuc’s civil society was more real than the majority of Vietnam’s civil society organizations existing to absorb foreign money and materialize international donors’ agenda. I thought I would suggest Mr. Phuc to set up a weekly English class for his adopted kids, give them a competitive edge early in life and lead them to a range of scholarships before their studies might become a burden to him and a stress to themselves.

Reality #2: “Blush of Fruit”

All the Is and wonderful good things that a person usually impressed by ideals and typically inclined to rationalize all things big and small to make her beliefs appear logical could think of – they came to a dramatic end when I discovered http://www.BlushofFruit.com.

Blush of Fruit (2012) is a documentary about how (1) the mothers are forced to work in order to stay at the Phuoc Phuc Shelter, (2) the kids are abused and (3) Mr. Phuc has run the shelter as a business and made a fortune for himself.

Because I’d been so much in love with the kids, especially the gorgeous Phuoc Tam, the imagined hero Phuc that actually works towards the ideal I follow and my own rationalizations, I became devastated. In the documentary trailer, I can see a younger version of my angel Phuoc Tam. On the About page of the website, I can see my dear Phuoc Tam crying, probably after being beaten by one of the shelter’s nannies.

Phuoc Tam crying

Phuoc Tam cried…

The website, with a documentary I haven’t watched and yet really want to, says, “In ten years, he has amassed three farms, six houses and a car. The money raised are [sic] from the children’s visitors.” It portrays Mr. Phuc as a gangster/devil making profits out of the adopted kids, as well as the Catholic/pro-choice trademark, which is totally different from what Mrs. Tu told me, “We raise the kids instead of having them adopted elsewhere. We don’t want to be seen as a business selling babies.” Mr. Phuc himself said the children are not up for adoption, since he wants to keep them and nurtures even the slightest chance of them getting reunited with their birth mothers, who used to consider abortion.

I haven’t made up my mind about the true story of Mr. Phuc’s shelter yet. I’m trying to be skeptical, rational and logical the way I always wish myself to be, although there’s always a tendency to turn to rationalization. I love the kids regardless, love them when the visuals of Blush of Fruit are so heartbreaking.


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