Never say Goodbye, Đức Cha Nho

Luật sư Maria C. Dotuong

I could not help remembering Đức Cha Nho. It seems like it was just yesterday…..

One glorious sunny day, Đức Cha Peter Nguyễn Văn Nho, Bishop of Nha Trang diocese, Vietnam, Monsignor (Đức Ông) PPVH, Chị Hoài Hương (the niece of Đức Cha Nho and my godsister) and I left the eternal city, Rome, Italy, and headed for Fatima, Portugal. We left Rome early in the morning, fresh from my baptism the day before.

Rome was quite cold in January. We all looked forward to warmer climate in Lisbon. I still remembered sitting with Đức Cha on the plane, his gray beret in his hands. Đức Cha Nho’s telling voice echoed in my heart, a voice that is kind and gentle with a sweet Nha Trang accent. A voice that simply opens hearts and souls…..

Đức Cha took us back to the old days filled with memories. While studying at the Gregoriana University in Rome in 1970’s, Đức Cha stayed in San Pietro dormitory. Life in a dormitory was quite routine until one day a Father fell ill. People noticed that the Father did not come down to dinner for a couple of days. And then one day, there was a strange, burning odor coming from upstair. What could that be? Had God called on the Father’s life? Was he gone? Well…….who could have guessed? It was nothing more than dry squid (mực khô nướng), a delicacy from Vietnam, barbecued by a Vietnamese Father.

Back then, most Fathers who came to Rome understood Latin. Many were proficient in French. Very few do speak Italian upon their arrival. Although facing some language difficulty, the Fathers managed quite nicely--the Italians had no problem understanding them. With a nostalgic demeanor, Đức Cha recalled one Father had a craving for duck. Duck rice soup (cháo vịt), barbecued duck (vịt quay), other specialty duck dishes, any of which would make a great feast. Very determined, the Father went to the market. But he only knew how to say a few words in Italian---a chicken is "un pollo," to make is "fare," to buy is "comprare," and to want is "volere," He walked slowly to the counter. The saleslady said some nice greetings and asked if she could help. As if he were speaking Vietnamese, the Father placed his order with complete confidence. He said "io voglio comprare un pollo ma un pollo fare cap, cap." (literally, it means the following--I want to buy a chicken, but a chicken that makes the sound cap, cap). The saleslady was puzzled for a minute and she went inside. The Father waited with anticipation. A few minutes later, she came out with a fat-looking duck

Beyond the warm sense of humor, Đức Cha possessed great intelligence. Ever simply humble, he spoke little of his accomplishments. But he made me proud to be a Vietnamese. He was the only Vietnamese Father who was accepted and graduated from the Gregoriana University, the top "Ivy-league" school of theology in the world. Even many high academic achievers from all parts of the world were refused admission.

As a Father and a Bishop, Đức Cha had done many good deeds that went unheard.

One of such deeds was my baptism. On one sunny day in the Santa Maria Trastevere Church in Rome, I received a benediction from the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, con-celebrated the mass with His Eminence was Đức Cha and other Vietnamese Fathers in Rome. Though having had to study for final exams, many Fathers and Sisters made special efforts to attend. I was late coming back to Christ but what a lovely coming home. Đức Cha had honored me with his presence on the greatest day of my life.

I see God’s love through the way Đức Cha lived his life. His words taught me the way to live a Christian life. His faith showed me his love for Christ as he was loved by Christ. He came to give service to others and never expected to be serviced by others. Đức Cha was a shepherd full of love. And like many people who have witnessed his life, I have come to understand the meaning of faith and the love of God.

A friend of mine once said "life is like a box of chocolate, open it and you never know who you are going to meet." How true! On my journey to Christ and on my way to Rome, I have met many unforgettable people. One of whom is Đức Cha Nho. I have a feeling that he is somewhere in Heaven looking down upon us with love, affection and prayer. And for that, there is never a goodbye, My Beloved Đức Cha Nho.

Maria C. Dotuong