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The nun who is building bridges from Asia to the USA

The inspiring journey of Franciscan Sister Sen Nguyen.

  • Kathy Coffey
  • United States
  • October 4, 2012
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The intriguing thing about a symbol is how many ways it works. The graceful bridges in the logo of Bridging Hope symbolize relationships between:

The Denver nonprofit and Vietnamese Catholics who minister to needy women and children;

Vietnamese children adopted in the U.S. during the Vietnam War and their homeland;

Vietnam veterans and others of their generation for whom the war was a defining event, and a sense of closure or reconciliation;

A misperception of Vietnamese people as "the enemy" and the truth of their beauty and intelligence.

Some bridges are hard to negotiate, but this ministry is a significant start. Many feel overwhelmed by world poverty, yet finding a direct, trustworthy way to alleviate it is the first step on the bridge. Even one small, practical action restores hope.

Unsurprisingly, a bridge plays a key role in the story of Franciscan Sr. Sen Nguyen. On April 23, 1975, as Saigon was collapsing and refugees were flooding south, she was distressed by the corpses of children lining the beach in her village south of the capitol. Telling her mother, "Wait here!" she left to seek help from the Red Cross in Saigon. She didn't know that social services had closed during the crisis. When the bridge connecting her village to the city was bombed out; her return home was delayed. Finally reaching the village, she could not find her mother, her only living relative.

Alone at 17, Nguyen was distraught for several months. Then, in what she calls "the miracle," a letter arrived from her mother, who had fled to the U.S. Since no mail was delivered between the two countries at the time, its arrival was remarkable. That launched Nguyen's journey -- without money -- to a reunion in Denver. "God brought me here through the water," she says with misty eyes. Her migration solved another dilemma: Her duty to her mother conflicted with her desire for religious life. In Vietnam, the custom then was to leave family completely. In the U.S., she could both become a Franciscan sister and care for her mom.

Yet living comfortably in the U.S. did not cloud the images of her people suffering the effects of war and poverty. When travel was again allowed to Vietnam in 1991, Nguyen returned to reestablish connections. She witnessed children living on the streets, begging for food, and young women forced into prostitution simply to survive. Bridging Hope was her response.

Full Story: Franciscan sister's nonprofit aims to create bridges between U.S., Vietnam

Source: National Catholic Reporter
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