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Three who are called
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placeholder October 27, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
National Vocations Awareness Week

Three who are called to serve

The bishop of Oakland has called three men to orders. They are Huong V. Le, Peter Tu Nguyen and Michael Nufable. The Catholic Voice asked each of these men to tell their vocation story.

Huong V. Le

Huong V. Le

My spiritual director once asked me, "Huong, what is your image of God?" This question gave me a pause. I did not prepare to answer this kind of question! As a theology student, I am accustomed to learning what philosophers, theologians, saints and the Church throughout the ages had talked about and of God based on what had been revealed in the salvation history. Nonetheless, the question prompted me to reexamine my relationship with God.

An answer did not come until two weeks later. This answer was a result of an intense period of reflection on the question, "Who is God to me personally?" It was like a process of rediscovering the footprints of God and how I had responded to his call in my life. This rediscovery was also a rediscovery of my vocation, if one understands vocation as a divine calling initiated by God and man's responsibility is to diligently discover and wholeheartedly embrace this divine calling with God's help.

Thanks to this period of reflection, I came to see God as my loving Father who lovingly keeps watch over me without ceasing and as this image gradually emerged, my vocation to the ministerial priesthood of Christ was also confirmed beyond the shadows of doubt.

My vocation was nurtured and grew at home. I was born June 8, 1985, in Hai Phong, Vietnam, to a Catholic family of four children (three girls and one boy). When I was born, my father, Hoi Van Le, thought that it was appropriate to name me Huong (meaning to enjoy, to have, or to last long) because at this time my family enjoyed a comfortable living. Life in a fishing village (Xam Bo) was beautiful for me until death claimed my mother's life on Oct. 14, 1994. A year after my mother's death, my dad married a woman who has truly become a mother to us all. She has cared and loved us as if we were her own children. I believe that my first encounter with the tenderness of God, thus his initial invitation to the priesthood, was somehow facilitated by this wonderful stepmother's love and care.

Having a new mother in the family, my life became somewhat normal again. Like any other youngster at my age, I grew up with many dreams and plans for the future. However, in the summer of 2005, God surprised me with an unexpected invitation from my pastor to a dinner.

At the end of that dinner, the pastor asked me to be a catechist, in charge of more than 300 kids. I did not expect this at all. I doubted my ability and worried very much about the request, but I later accepted it. I started teaching right away. As time went on, I noticed that the more I got involved in teaching, the more I learned to love and care for the kids.

As a result, my life was shifted significantly. I no longer went to the church because of my parents' imposition, but rather out of my love for God and the Catholic faith.

Daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration gradually became a significant part of my day, because there, in the church, with the presence of the Lord, I found myself at peace. In many ways, He has captivated me mysteriously.

During this time, my life took another turn when the idea of being a priest of Christ grabbed my attention for the first time. I knew this was not my idea, but rather something I experienced deep within. It was like a call from within, appealing and attractive, and yet very adventurous.

This idea of becoming a priest, however, was confronted by my personal dreams and desires. As a consequence of this clash, confusion became a state of my mind for at least six months. If it was not for God's loving presence in his words and deeds written in the Gospels, that confusion would have lingered longer than it did.

The Lord Jesus' words to his disciples had set me free from this confusion of mind: "… Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20: 25-28).

As I pondered these words, my conviction grew strong. It appeared to me then to be a priest is to be another Christ for others in love and service. This was what I realized and what I decided to give up my life for. I did not see this giving up just as a sacrifice, but a way of living life to the fullest.

I informed my dad about my decision and asked him for permission to leave home and join the program for candidates. This meant I would leave my family and move in to live in the parish's rectory. However, my dad seemed disappointed. My dad did not like the idea, not because he was against priesthood as such, but rather he understood how important and wonderful priesthood was. More importantly, he knew his prodigal son too well! He was afraid I was prematurely acting out of impulse, and priesthood was not for me. Despite this fear, he later approved my leaving.

In 2010, I asked him for the reason behind this change of mind. He told me that when I was 3 years old, I contracted pneumonia. After three surgeries, doctors did not think I would live. They told him to bring me home. They expected me to die soon.

A small coffin had been made; our house was rearranged and gotten ready for a funeral. In the midst of all this preparation, my father had a mysterious encounter with a man, who he believed to be St. Joseph. He believed in the dream, St. Joseph had told him that: "You will be losing your properties, but not your son."

Whether or not these were actual words of St. Joseph to him in the dream or just a hallucination, the fact remained that I miraculously recovered from the illness and grew up strong. As he recalled this incident, he changed his mind because, according to his words, "if God has called you and you responded, I cannot keep you."

Like my father, I have no doubt my life was God's work of grace. God, like a good Father, has led me along this path of discernment. Two years after my joining the Diocese of Hai Phong, Vietnam, on Aug. 7, 2007, I was sent to the Diocese of Oakland. From 2007 to 2010, I was sent to study English and philosophy at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Three years of preparation on the hilltop paved the way for me to St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park, where I have been studying for the last five years.

Being at St. Patrick's Seminary is truly a privilege, because I am closer to my new home — I mean the Diocese of Oakland. I call her new home because here, I learn to love others of different skin colors; here, I learn to appreciate the multicultural community with its diversity and unity; here, I learn to serve God's people other than those of my own race; here, I learn to give and receive from many people of good will, love and care; here, I learn to say "yes" to God's call to the priesthood in imitation of Christ, whose priesthood I pray to be part of.

To conclude, I would like to borrow the words of the psalmist:

…Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name;
His mercy endures forever,
his faithfulness lasts through every generation (Ps 100:3-5).

Peter Tu Nguyen

Peter Tu Nguyen

It is a privilege for me to share some insights of my vocation journey. I was born and raised in a Catholic family of six children in Haiphong, a province in the North of Vietnam. I became a seminarian of the Diocese of Haiphong in 2003, a short time after graduating at the University of Hanoi.

It was a long discernment process that began when I was at the age of 10 at the refugee camp in Hong Kong from 1988 to 1993. Father Luis Robert, a Jesuit priest who served thousands of refugees, enlightened and formed in me a desire to be a priest in order to serve God's people. Father Robert traveled from camp to camp bringing the message of the Gospel to the people who were in need of consolation, peace and love after suffering the escape from their own hometowns. His compassion to the refugees manifested the image of Christ the Good Shepherd and gave me an example of a good priest. This image became part of my life that has inspired me to ponder in my heart the calling to become a priest.

When I was in the college, I joined the youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Hanoi. I helped young people learn how to pray. In one of the prayer meetings, there was a young lady who shared with me that she would want me to hear her confession. Her words were like a spark of light that stirred in my heart a desire to become a priest. After this event, I started praying and discerning seriously to become a seminarian. Indeed, God never fails to reveal His will to those He calls. Recognizing God's love and mercy when he called me through the words of Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien, I did not hesitate to say yes to his invitation.

After four years of serving at the cathedral, I was sent to the United States by Bishop Joseph. I became a seminarian of the Diocese of Oakland in 2007. I took three years of philosophy and English at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Now, I am in my fourth year of theology at St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park. The formation of the seminary and the life of prayer have helped me to be firm with my desire to become a priest.

Together with Huong Le and Michael Nufable, I am called by Bishop Barber to the Sacred Order of Deaconate. Please keep us in your prayer as we are preparing for this sacred moment.

Michael Nufable

Michael Nufable

I am a fourth-year theologian and in formation at St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park. I am a 28-year-old Filipino-American from Hercules, and I was born in Vallejo. My home parish is St. Patrick in Rodeo. I have been blessed with my parents Rey and Elena and my brothers Francis and Joseph to support my vocation and answer to God's calling.

From second through eighth grade, I attended St. Patrick School in Rodeo. For high school, I attended Pinole Valley my freshman year and the last three years at Hercules High. For three years after high school, I attended Contra Costa College.

There is so much I can say about my life and my vocation but I will start in the summer of 2001, when I attended a youth retreat. Before I went on this retreat, I knew my plan was to be married, become a father and be a pediatric nurse/professional bowler. After that weekend and especially after reading a letter my parents wrote to me, I knew that it was no longer what I wanted for my life. God had a different plan for me.

My pursuit as a pediatric nurse continued for a few weeks after I was confirmed in 2002 at St. Patrick Church in Rodeo. The faith formation director, Beverly Pascua-Fung, asked if I wanted to help start a youth ministry at the parish. I told her I was interested if there was any behind-the-scenes work because I was a quiet person and was nervous speaking in public. She had me start by working on data input and preparing the supplies for the YM sessions. I still continued my involvement as an altar server.

As the days, months, years went on, I became an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, director of youth Mass, lector, member of the Parish Pastoral Council, master of ceremonies and faith formation for the children through the encouragement and guidance of my parish pastor, Father Larry Young. In August 2006, I was youth programs assistant for St. Patrick Church. With all this involvement, few parishioners asked if I ever thought of becoming a priest. I have three uncles who are priests, but it had never occurred to me to live my life as a priest. On Wednesday of Holy Week 2007, I decided to enter the seminary. For one year, I attended Holy Names University in Oakland. In August 2008, I entered St. Patrick's Seminary.

Never would I have thought of making a decision of entering the seminary and studying to become a Roman Catholic priest. A quote that I tell myself every day is, "Day In and Day Out, For the Greater Glory of God." I have met so many wonderful people in my life during the years of my formation in the Diocese of Oakland and the Church at large. I thank God for my family and friends who continue to support my vocation.

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