Who Said that a Priest’s Life Was Boring?
It’s been 31 days since I’ve flown down to Georgia to live with Cha Thông (Fr. Martino) for the summer. Most of my friends were curious as to why I was staying back with Cha after the mission trip this past May and my answer was simply, “I’m 20 years old, entering my third year at university, and have no girlfriend(s) to attend to so why not live with Cha to see if God is calling me.” Of course this was followed up by friendly laughter amongst my friends and I, but it is what is and if God wants me to carry this enormous cross and consider the priesthood then I might as well stay with a priest that I would consider to be my spiritual father in the long run!
Staying with Cha Thông, I feel as though I have become more mature and independent. The tasks I complete for him, although tedious at times, teach me a lot of values such as patience, a sense of responsibility, and time management to name a few; let’s not forget how much agility and endurance is needed when working alongside of him on the same task(s). All in all, I’ve learned to discipline myself through his subliminal teaching methods. If anyone has seen the “Karate Kid” series, you can picture Cha Thông as Mr. Miyagi and myself as Daniel-san; I do the most physical and strenuous jobs, but it disciplines me and builds character.
Anyone that works for or with One Body Village, Inc. can vouch for me when I say that Cha Thông has a very different way of running things. He assigns you a task and you do it; he doesn’t care how you do it, just as long as you get it done for him in a timely manner. Cha’s expectations are very high and to top that off he’s a perfectionist. Things have to be just right for his approval and if they’re not then he scraps the whole thing and starts you back at square one. At this point you’re probably wondering where or when I’m going to include the fact that he is the most hot tempered person this side of the East Coast. Well here it is! I find it amusing when I hear Cha explain to people that he has a hot temper and has tried to change it for the better these past couple of years, but it wasn’t working out for him. Instead, he now encourages people to deal with him as he goes through his phases of hot temperedness. At first, I wanted to act out and throw a tantrum alongside him until I met the retired priest staying with him, Cha Kỳ. Cha Kỳ explained to me that he’s lived with Cha Thông for nearly two years and hasn’t found reason to be upset at him when he gets heated because of one reason: He (Cha Kỳ) worries about himself and does his own thing and lets Cha Thông do his own thing as well; Cha Kỳ doesn’t poke his head around Cha Thông’s work and vice versa, unless of course if one asks the other for help. The essence of respect that these two have for one another allows them to live happily together without ever having to step on each other’s toes. I learned this valuable lesson from Cha Kỳ and will forever hold it dear to my heart for the near future when I meet more people like Cha Thông. Here’s hoping God just made one Cha Thông!
Living with Cha Thông has naturally made me apart of One Body Village. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I have become his personal secretary within this short span of time, but perhaps assistant is a better term for now. Those in the Vietnamese community refer to me as “đệ tử của Cha Thông” which Google Translate in turn translate into “information disciple of Cha Thông,” but let’s be serious and throw that translation out and just call me his apprentice to save time. In olden times, apprenticeships meant that you were willing to learn a skill or trade over a fixed period of time at low wages. Well, I’m learning about the priesthood so there’s the “skill” or “trade” and I’m working for the lowest of wages: FREE! In all honesty, I value everything I have learned thus far. Cha always reminds me to ask questions if I am unsure of some things and I always do. One of my university professors always stressed that asking a question didn’t mean that you were dumb, but that you were never informed of such information so clarification is needed.
I ask Cha a lot of questions, especially relating to his parishioners. I don’t always ask specific questions since it could be a personal reason as to why they sought out Cha for his counseling, but I do my best to always stick my nose into their business just to learn. For example, while packing and preparing things for Đại Hội Thánh Mẫu (Marian Days), Cha excused himself from the garage we were working in to attend a 3 o’clock appointment he had planned for. I thought nothing of it, just that a couple of his parishioners wanted to meet with him per usual.
We finished packing up for ĐHTM and returned inside the rectory so that I could resolve the internet connection issue(s) in his house. While setting up the new router for Cha, the doorbell rang at around 5:20PM. Cha informed me that he had a 5 o’clock appointment, but because they showed up late, he wasn’t going to be seeing them. He proceeded to tell me to answer the door and tell the ringer that he wasn’t home. Here I am walking to the door thinking, “Did a priest really just ask me to lie to someone?” I answer the door and to my surprise, a cute Vietnamese girl (or so my Asian stereotyping senses tell me) in her 20s greets me. We exchange a few words and I learn that she was Cha’s 5 o’clock appointment; she seemed very anxious and nervous to meet him. I tell her that Cha left for a few minutes and that he should be back shortly and ask if I can take a message. Just my luck, she didn’t want to leave a message even though it was of an urgent matter for her to meet with him, so there goes my shot at getting her phone number. I found it odd that she began asking about me and why I was there and Cha was not. So I explained to her that I was staying here for the summer to help Cha with things such as filing documents and reports. She leaves and I return to the office to check on the router. To my surprise, I notice her sitting outside in the rain, praying to our Mother Mary (Cha has a quiet little area of prayer at his parish for his parishioners with the statue of Mary). I tell Cha that she’s still outside and he doesn’t seem to care until I tell him that she’s outside praying to Mary…in the rain. He immediately drops all his work and heads to the window to confirm my statement. I notice Cha stare out the window for a quite some time as I head back to work. An hour passes and the doorbell chimes once again. This time, Cha answers. I have no idea as to who it is, but my guess is that it was the cute Vietnamese girl from earlier. I stick my head into the hallway to see if I can get a glimpse of her while they’re having their meeting and to my surprise, she’s sitting there talking with Cha! Of course this delays my work, but hey, she’s cute and I’m single! Am I right, or am I right?
Dinnertime approaches so Cha begins cooking and calls me in when he’s finished. We sit down like we do every night to eat dinner together. Usually we talk about things that have come across the day so today I thought I’d ask him about his two appointments today. During dinner, we end up talking about demons and ghosts and he mentions to me that the two women earlier today that came to see him wanted to go to confession because they believe that they were hearing and seeing things in their home. So Cha and I begin bouncing stories off one another because I become intrigued as to why the South has so many more of these incidents versus the North. We talk for a while until I bring up the Vietnamese girl. Cha explains to me that she isn’t a that much of practicing Catholic and that the last time he saw her at church was at the Thanksgiving Mass of last year. He tells me more about her; she’s 19 years old and lives about an hour and a half away from this parish, which would explain why she was late to her appointment at 5 o’clock because Cha ended up telling me that she had previously called him at 4PM to schedule an appointment. It should be noted that Cha Thông only answers his phone after office hours and not during, because he would rather have his secretary, Ms. Reba schedule them in during office hours so that no one is to be overlapped. I asked Cha why he ended up meeting with her and he replied, “If someone comes to you twice within a couple hours, it’s probably something important and God is probably telling you to meet with him or her regardless of your meeting policy.” Cha’s policy is that if the party wishing to meet with him is late then they should call him in advance to reschedule or if they would like to cancel then they should still call him. Anyways, getting back to the important part, the girl, I learn that she is ready and willing to work with OBV in the matters of teaching at the OBV house in Vietnam. Cha says that it’s hard to come by people these days that are that willing and dedicated to spend a year outside of the States to help non-profit organizations.
I admire people like this girl who decide to put their education on hold in order to better the lives of others. One Body Village is a great organization that Cha Thông has helped build up. Although Cha is ill and at times and physically unable to continue on his mission, he somehow finds the mental strength to force himself to continue on because if not for him, who will take care of his children in the OBV homes? That’s all I have for now, but rest assured that I’ll be back with more stories to tell from living with Cha Thông! Who ever said that a priest’s life was boring?
P.S. If you’re the girl mentioned above, my name’s Jonathan and you know where I am for the rest of this summer!
Jonathan Duy Nguyen