A Vietnamese priest has been remembered for strengthening the faith of soldiers and Catholics in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Bishop Aloysius Nguyen Hung Vi of Kontum and some 100 priests on Jan. 29 celebrated the funeral of Father Joseph Pham Minh Cong, who died of old age on Jan. 26. He was 85. A vast crowd turned out to attend his funeral at Kon Tum Cathedral. Vicar General Father Peter Nguyen Van Dong described Father Cong as “a grain of wheat” which died for the Catholic faith when he was imprisoned and banned from giving pastoral care for nearly 30 years by government authorities. The priest was jailed from 1975-88 for serving the US-backed South Vietnam armed forces as a chaplain from 1971-75.
After his release from prison, he was not granted personal papers and not allowed to serve parishes in Kontum Diocese for the following 15 years. He secretly visited and offered pastoral service to some parishes in the neighboring diocese of Ban Me Thuot. Father Cong once praised God’s love for him. “God himself sent me to jail so that I could make a minor contribution to his plan of salvation,” he said. After his resident status was restored in 2003, he was assigned to serve 14 parishes and subparishes in Kontum Diocese and built two churches until he retired in 2017. Many Catholics praised the priest for fostering Marian devotion among soldiers during the Vietnam War by erecting Marian statues in Kon Tum province. In his memoirs written in 2011, Father Cong, a chaplain, said he visited and tended soldiers and their families in Lents and Advents. He had soldiers erect a Marian statue of Fatima at Mang Den in 1971 for them to show their devotion to Mother Mary. The statue’s hands were damaged by bullets in 1975. The site has become the diocese’s Pilgrimage Center of Mary, which attracts tens of thousands of devotees on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Father Cong had another statue of Mother of Grace erected on Cu Pao Mount in Kon Tum province. After 1975, two communist guerrillas who shot at the statue and threw it down an abyss were killed by a landmine as they returned to their base. Anna Nguyen Thi Vang, who worked with Father Cong for years, said the priest was friendly and humble, lived a simple life, trusted in divine providence, and loved marginalized people and ethnic groups. She said he wrote many hymns popular among Catholics and ministered to members of the Legion of Mary, a lay apostolic association, for 13 years. Born in 1935 in Hai Duong, northern Vietnam, Father Cong moved to the south in 1954 and was ordained a priest in 1965 in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. He used to teach at seminaries and Catholic schools.
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