Bishop Paul Nguyên Thanh Hoan blesses the faithful at Our Lady of Tapao Shrine in 2009
In 1968 Joe Mahoney was serving with the Marines in South Vietnam, where he met Father Paul Nguyen Thanh Hoan, whom he always thought was killed when the North overran the region in 1975. Many priests were imprisoned and killed when the South was overtaken, and so Mahoney was “quite confident he was dead” and never looked up Fr Paul, reports the Catholic News Agency.
But earlier this year, he finally discovered that God had preserved Fr Nguyen, made him Bishop Nguyen, and helped him found a religious community. “He's an amazing guy spiritually, very prayerful. I think he just has so much trust in God that nothing surprises him at all,” Mahoney said of Bishop Paul Hoan in an interview last week with CNA.
Fr Nguyen was ordained a priest in 1965, and when he met Mahoney in 1968 they were both serving in Dong Ha, which was 10 miles from the border between North and South Vietnam.
The pastor of the parish was soon killed by the communists, and so Fr Nguyen became the pastor. His new role meant that he had to travel to surrounding villages to bring the sacraments. “Fr Paul really had the peace of the Lord,” said Mahoney. “He just did his job, and didn't seem phased by it when they shelled the church … he just did his job, period.”
“He would just say, 'Well then you fix it, keep using it. We need a church, we have Mass there, we're going to continue to have Mass there, let's fix it up and keep going.'”
Mahoney was a civil affairs officer in Dong Ha, coordinating between the Marines and the local community. One day the priest asked Mahoney to build an orphanage, because so many children had lost both their parents in the fighting.
Mahoney acquired some unused buildings from the military base and that year Fr Nguyen opened White Dove Orphanage. “He always worked a lot with the poor, in addition to the regular priestly duties he had,” remembered Mahoney.
In 1972 Fr Nguyen moved with thousands of families and orphans to the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) as the communists invaded.
FULL STORY: Veteran reconnects with Vietnamese priest he thought was dead (CNA)