Andrew Nguyen Dinh Thang (left) shares his experience in faith at a Cursillo gathering on Nov. 28 in Hue. Vietnam has 15,400 Cursillo members from 22 dioceses out of the country's 27 dioceses. (Photo: UCA News)
In the past, Andrew Nguyen Dinh Thang was notorious for trading in second-hand motorbikes in Vietnam’s central province of Thua Thien Hue.
Thang bought old scooters at low prices, refitted them with parts he got from thieves and sold them at high prices. He would fight with other traders for customers.
The 48-year-old father of three admitted that although his dishonest business went against Catholic teaching, he could not leave the highly profitable business as other people also did the same for a living.
He said he had a terrible conscience about his trade and did not dare to receive the Eucharist for fear of God’s punishment.
In 2017 he decided to change his life and abandoned his business after attending a retreat at his parish and joining the local Cursillo Movement.
“We pray with the rosary each day and the Cross stations on Fridays, attend daily Mass, visit patients and provide food for people in need,” said Thang, who now sells electrical equipment for a living. They and other people clean village paths at the weekend.
Thang, who comes from Cau Hai Parish in Phu Loc district, said his four-member group meet to make action plans on a weekly basis.
Cursillo members actively encourage Catholic families who have stopped faith practice to return to the Church, offer monthly food to followers of other faiths, volunteer to repair people’s houses damaged during severe floods in October and donate blood to victims of road accidents.
“I try to make friends with all people and follow the motto ‘holding Christ in one hand and people in the other hand’,” he said.
Anthony Le Huu Dat, another Cursillo member from Chan Xuan Parish, gave up alcohol after he joined the Cursillo Movement in 2018. In the past he weighed only 39 kilograms, took to drink, slept on roads the worse for drink many times and was hospitalized for illnesses relating to boozing.
Dat and six other members regularly attend Mass and Eucharist adoration, share God’s Word, sweep the local church and do charitable work.
“My wife and I daily pray with the Divine Mercy for my uncle, who left the Church for over 40 years, to resume his faith practice,” the father of two said. “We are happy that God answers our prayers.”
“I feel that God is always with me and helps me give up my bad habits,” he said, adding that his health improved and he put on 10 kilograms.
The 40-year-old said he has close relationships with his relatives and neighbors who used to disrespect him due to his alcohol abuse.
“Now I share the sheer joy of having divine grace with them and introduce Catholic values to people of other faiths,” he said.
He used his boat to move old people and children to the local church and delivered food to victims during the floods in October.
Martha Bui Thi Gam, who works at a nail bar in Thakhek in Laos for a living, said she inspired the Vietnamese-Laotian owner of the nail bar, a Buddhist, to be interested in Catholicism by providing loving care for her daughter who had her arm broken in 2018.
Gam, 19, from Ha Uc Parish in Hue, said she volunteered to care for the daughter at hospital for two weeks and took her to school until she recovered.
“As a result, the owner has the utmost respect for me and my faith,” said the nail worker, who left secondary school in 2014 since her family could not afford her school fees. She took the nail bar owner and her daughter to a church in Thakhek in 2018 and they also offered sticky rice, coffee, tea, cooking oil to the church according to local tradition.
“Now the owner reminds me to go to church on Sundays,” she said.
Gam, who entered the Cursillo Movement in Hue in 2018, said in the past she was banned from attending services at the church, some 60 kilometers from their bar, by the owner, who failed to pay attention to her faith. The woman, who has five siblings, had to return home to Vietnam every three months to visit her family and maintain her faith practice.
Gam, who stays home due to the Covid-19 lockdown, said she will return to her work in Laos soon. “Cursillo activities help strengthen my faith and urge me to bear witness to the Good News,” she said.
Father Fancis Xavier Ho Van Uyen, spiritual director of the Cursillo Movement in Hue Archdiocese, said candidates for membership have to attend a three-day training course where they take part in services and prayers, study the Bible and church teaching, and do charity work.
Father Uyen, 43, said members meet and make action plans monthly at their parishes and all of them have meetings every three months at the archdiocese level.
On Nov. 28, some 80 members gathered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Hue, reviewed examples of the Vietnamese Martyrs and shared their faith experience with one another.
The priest said members improve their faith life, actively participate in church activities and bring many people back to the Church.
The Cursillo Movement was founded in Mallorca, Spain, by a group of laymen in 1944. It aims to train laypeople to be effective Christian leaders.
The late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan established the Catholic movement in 1967 in Saigon, southern Vietnam.
It was banned after communist forces took control of the country in 1975. The movement was resumed by Vietnamese returnees in 2006.
The Cursillo Movement was established for the first time in Hue Archdiocese in 1972 and was banned by the government after 1975. The late Father Peter Hoang Xuan Nghiem from the US re-established the movement with 30 laypeople in 2016.
The movement has more than 200 members in the archdiocese covering Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue provinces.
Vietnam has 15,400 Cursillo members from 22 dioceses out of the country's 27 dioceses.