The video above is a news report broadcast on CBS TV in the USA in June 1979 about a refugee camp on the tiny Malaysian island of Pulau Bidong, which was a refuge for countless Vietnamese ‘Boat People’ fleeing from the aftermath of the Vietnam War between the late 1970s and the early 1990s. In A Seminarian for Thirty Years Fr Dominic Derramas of the Diocese of Bacolod tells the remarkable story of a man who lived in Pulau Bidong from 1989 to 1991 as a refugee from Vietnam and who later became a priest in Canada, Fr Peter Tran.
We link Father Peter’s story with those of two other ‘Boat People’ who became Columban priests, Fr Peter Nguyen Van Hung who has been working with Vietnamese workers and trafficked persons in Taiwan, and Fr Nguyen Xuan Tien who works in Japan.
The three Vietnamese priests have something in common with a great missionary saint whose feast is celebrated on 17 March, St Patrick. He too was a ‘boat person’ in the sense that as a teenager he was kidnapped and taken by boat to Ireland to work as a slave. We tell his story in this issue, Saint Patrick (385 -461): The Impact of One Life, by Hallie Riedel.
We feature a quotation from St Patrick on our cover photo, ‘The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my sins and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.’ During the six years that he spent taking care of sheep on a mountainside in Ireland the young Patrick re-discovered the faith he had neglected as a teenager.
Victoricus calling St Patrick to return to Ireland [Wikipedia]
When got back in Britain after escaping from Ireland St Patrick had a dream of a man named Victoricus bringing him countless letters from Ireland, ‘Vox Hiberniae – The Voice of Ireland’, asking him to return, which he did as a missionary bishop, one of the most remarkable missionaries in the history of the Church. During his six years as a slave in Ireland he came to know the Irish language and to understand the culture of the people there. He used all of this knowledge when he went back as a missionary. During his lifetime the Catholic faith took deep root there and in the centuries after his death many Irish monks went as Peregrini pro Christo, Pilgrims for Christ, to Britain and to mainland Europe. Perhaps the greatest of those was St Columban, the patron saint of the Missionary Society of St Columban.
St Patrick’s words, from the second paragraph of his Confessio, ‘The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my sins and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God’, give us the purpose of Lent, which has just begun. Lent is a gift of God to each of us and to all of us as Church. During the forty days of Lent we recall the forty-year journey of the Hebrews, refugees from Egypt, to the Promised Land.
During Lent and Easter on Sundays and solemnities we pray the Apostles’ Creed that ends with the words, ‘I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.’ St Columban expressed this in a different way in his Eight Sermon: ‘Since we are travelers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home.’
Irish Naval Service rescuing ‘boat people’ in the Mediterranean, 15 June 2015 [Wikipedia]
Maybe some ancestors of the fewer than 1,100 personnel of the Irish Naval Service were among the pirates who kidnapped St Patrick long ago. But between May 2015 and December 2016 Irish naval ships, cooperating with the Italian authorities, rescued more than 15,000 ‘boat people’ in the Mediterranean.