Catholics with Father Joseph Nguyen Dinh Dau in front of the retirement house in Hanoi. (Photo: UCA News)
Bishop John Mary Vu Tat of Hung Hoa presided at a special thanksgiving Mass celebrating Father Joseph Nguyen Dinh Dau, who had reached the retirement age of 75 and completed his service at Dong Dam Parish in Phu Tho province.
Emeritus Bishop Anthony Vu Huy Chuong along with 30 priests and 1,000 parishioners attended the July 28 ceremony.
On the following day, they accompanied Father Dau to Hung Hoa Diocese’s first house for retired clergy where, after a party, many people bade him an emotional and tearful farewell.
“We have to give our warmest, heartfelt thanks to Father Dau, who has successfully accomplished his pastoral mission after 36 years,” Bishop Tat, 76, said.
The elderly priest served in many parishes including remote areas, especially during hard times in 1990s when the local Church had only 17 priests, most of them elderly and ailing.
The bishop wished the retired priest an enjoyable retirement at the house.
The house is located in Thai Binh Subparish of Thach That district of capital Hanoi. Inaugurated in October 2019, this roomy building has sleeping quarters, living and dining rooms with a kitchen served by two sisters and one priest.
Bishop Tat has already provided two retired priests — Father Dau and Father Joseph Nguyen Thai Ha — with accommodation at the house that will care for them in retirement. Father Ha, 76, a former apostolic administrator of the diocese, moved to the house last year.
He said a dozen retired priests have had to stay in parishes and subparishes since the local Church has had no place for them to retire.
The diocese’s properties and facilities were confiscated by Vietnam's government or taken over by other people in the 1960s. A few of them have been returned in recent years.
“One of our most urgent priorities is to build more facilities to serve local retired clergy as a way to reward them after they have spent all their life serving the local Church,” Bishop Tat told UCA News.
The country’s largest diocese in terms of territory is providing retirement homes in several convenient locations so that local Catholics can pay frequent visits and help care for the retired priests.
“We plan to build two more houses in Thai Binh Subparish to receive four retired priests,” he said, adding that two pastoral centers under construction in the provinces of Lao Cai and Phu Tho will admit other elderly priests.
The 125-year-old diocese has 165 priests serving 253,000 Catholics at 118 parishes and 570 subparishes across nine provinces and part of Hanoi.
Father Joseph Nguyen Dinh Dau (center) is warmly welcomed by bishops and priests at the retirement house in Hanoi. (Photo: UCA News)
Elderly priests deserve tender care
Father Antoine Nguyen Gia Nhang, 81, said he started to give up ministry in 2014 and has stayed at Tho Khoi Subparish house but it lacks facilities for the elderly. He has to manage all daily chores himself.
Another retired priest, Father Antoine Duong Phu Oanh, 79, said he has been cared for at Phuong Bai Church for the past five years. “I have to look after myself and worry that I will become a burden to local people when I get sick,” Father Oanh said in a low voice.
Father Luke Nguyen The Truyen, 83, said he and another elderly priest happily spend their retirement at Son Loc Cathedral. “We are given free accommodation, so we spend our time teaching catechism to catechumens, give talks and pay pastoral visits to parishes,” he said.
Joseph Nguyen Van Hoa from Trai Co Subparish said local Catholics regularly donate money for medical treatment for the ailing Father Joseph Phi Dinh Su.
“Elderly priests have sacrificed themselves to offer pastoral care to people, so they really deserve to be well tended in their old age,” Hoa said.
“It is the best for the diocese to provide suitable facilities and care for retired priests because local Catholics live in poor conditions and even many could not afford to look after their own parents,” he said.
Father Dau, ordained a priest without government permits in 1986, said he is happy to enjoy a comfortable retirement at the house for retired priests. “I read, play the piano, look after birds, visit my relatives and other priests, and sometimes celebrate Mass for the subparish,” he said.
“In the past, I was deeply concerned about a place to stay when I retired. I asked some subparishes to house me but no one replied,” the slightly built priest said, adding that he had been afraid of being alone without laypeople.
He used to live in leaf-roof houses in parishes, walked and rode houses to visit ethnic Hmong Catholics in remote areas, and built many church facilities.
“After serving people for years, now I have nothing left except for some books and clothes,” Father Dau said. “Being housed and tended well is a solace in old age for retired priests like me.”