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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Why Did God Permit Me to Live, and Not Someone Else?
Fr Chan Minh Dinh, LC (Vietnam)

P. Chan Minh Dinh, LC
P. Chan Minh Dinh, LC

The seed of my vocation formed slowly throughout my life, like a mustard seed, with the watering and pruning of my family and activities at my parish. I am the youngest of nine children. My dad died when I was two months old. My mom is very devout and hard working. I remember that she would wake up her children at 4:30 A.M. so that we could go to Mass at 5:00. Many times after Mass I would go to sleep again. In the afternoon she would send us to pray the Rosary with other children at our parish. Vietnam is only 10% Catholic, but I grew up in a predominant Catholic area—about 99.9% Catholic—because my town was made of relatives and friends who had escaped from Communist North Vietnam during the 1960s. They founded and built our town from scratch. I have great memories of my childhood: of making my own toys to play with, and of participating in beautiful Catholic traditions such as procession of Corpus Christi, and the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday.


In 1983, when I was 6 years old, my oldest brother took me along with him to a big city to buy a boat for his work, which he used later to escape from Vietnam. Actually, I practically forced him to take me along, since I wanted to travel to see new places and people. I observed and took in everything for the first time: markets, stores, cars, buses, trucks, new toys. During this trip I saw a young man without arms and legs crawling on the street crying and begging for alms. His lower body was red, delicate, almost bleeding because his skin was exposed to the street pavement. I had great sympathy for him, since I had not seen poverty and hunger so strikingly before. On the way back home, this image of suffering came back to me often, and a noble ideal arose in my heart. I wanted to become rich someday in order to help the poor.

When I was 8, one day after I arrived home from school, my mom asked me, “Do you want to see your brothers and sister?” They had escaped from
P. Chan Minh Dinh, LC
Vietnam by boat two years before, and I missed them a lot. They arrived safely to Indonesia, and a few years later the United States gave them asylum to begin new life in Dodge City, Kansas. Without hesitation, I answered yes, because I wanted adventure and, above all, to see them again.

Now, I would like to explain some of the reasons why thousands of Vietnamese escaped from our country during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, to find freedom and opportunities elsewhere. Vietnam was and is famous for its war, mainly as portrayed by Hollywood films and documentaries. Vietnam was torn apart by the struggle between democracy and Communism. As I was growing up in my little town, my older brothers had to hide whenever the police came, so as to conscript all 15 to 35-year-olds into the army. Enlisting into the army was quite frightening because many young men never returned home or returned without arms or legs. Many times my mom had to dig holes to hide her precious goods and life savings, since the police would confiscate them. Our neighborhood school only went up to fifth grade, and so most adolescents saw themselves working on the rice paddies for the rest of their lives. We could not celebrate our Catholic faith freely. Our parish priest had to ask permission for any major activities at the parish. Because of all these difficulties, many Vietnamese risked their lives by escaping, either by foot to Laos and Cambodia, or by small fishing boats to Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, or Indonesia. It was a voyage fraught with danger, since they had inadequate equipment, often without a motor or even a compass, and there was the constant peril of storms and pirates. I lost 15 of my cousins in this way.

As I looked back at my own journey, or whenever I saw a beach, a swimming pool, or a lake, I often asked God, “Why did you spare my life but not others’? What is your plan for me?” Since the trip was very dangerous, my mom divided us into three different groups. After 5 years of separation we had our family reunion at Dodge City, Kansas. A local group of nuns sponsored us and helped us out during the first few months at Dodge City. I am grateful to the nuns, the communities at Dodge City, and the government, who helped us greatly as we began a new life.

Betting with Mary

As I was finishing high school, I had to make another important decision. What did I want to do in the future? What was God’s plan for my life? I was split fifty-fifty between the desire to have a career and to marry, and the desire to become a priest. I heard God’s call, but I was avoiding it. I told God that I did not have the necessary qualities: I was not good at public speaking, and I did not know how to teach. I kept this secret of a possible vocation to myself. I did not even tell my mother.

One day, while I was home alone, I made a prayer to Our Lady of Fatima and made a bet with her. “Mary, if I have a vocation to the priesthood, please give me a simple sign. You have a crown with five diamonds on your head. If the red diamond is facing forward, then your son is truly calling me and I will follow him.” I forgot about my bet, but two or three days later, I was home alone again and made another prayer before the same statue. It seemed to me that her face was more joyful than before, and then I saw the red diamond on her crown shining forward straight at me “Oh boy!” I said to her. “Your Son is calling me. Now, I have to keep the promise.” However, I did not keep the promise: I ran away from it. After my first semester at Cal State University, Los Angeles, I was at a loss as to what I wanted to do. I decided to become a math teacher, since my Spanish professor once told me, “Don’t go into the teaching field for money. You go into teaching so that you can make a big difference in many lives,” and his words had made a big impression on me. I was very happy with this career choice, because I could both get married and help students.

At the beginning of my second year, I got a math tutoring job for junior high school students. I enjoyed it very much, since I felt I was helping students. More and more I discovered that this job empowered my public speaking skills. I saw that some students did not even know the times table, and that many had discipline problems, largely due to their family situations. I thought I had paid my lost bet to Mary through this career choice.

On the surface, at least, I felt at peace with my decision to finish my math degree and to get married, but the calling never went away. One day, I decided to clean the house for my mom. It was meant to be a surprise, but by accident I threw away an old can which contained her savings. (After her experience with the Communists regime, she did not trust the bank enough to keep her money there.) She did not ask me to pay her back, but I noticed the pain and the sorrow she had. The next day I went to Mass, and the Gospel of the day was on the rich young man (Mark 10:17-31): “Go, sell everything and come and follow me,” says Jesus. Throwing away my mom’s savings and the Gospel message of God hit home: I was sure that God was calling me. I spread the news to her that God was calling me to the priesthood. She supported my decision.

First-hand Experience

The next challenge for me was how to enter a seminary. I knew many priests, nuns, and religious congregations, because I had been an active youth leader at my parish for three years. No one had invited me to visit his congregation or seminary, and I did not know the process of discernment. One hot sunny day, Mary Hiu, a youth group leader at my parish, brought an old issue of LeCristo (a newsletter published by the Legionaries in the U.S. and Canada) for an adolescent who was thinking of a priestly vocation. The young man left it on the table to play basketball. I did not have anything to do, and so I began to flip through the pages. A picture of the ordination of 27 young men caught my eye. The newsletters’ definition of the priesthood made me very enthusiastic: “A priest has the same mission as Christ to glorify God the Father and to save souls.” For the first time, I understood just a little what it means to be a priest. I felt attracted by this mission, this challenge, this adventure. I decided to call the novitiate in Cheshire for more information. I called six times in the space of two weeks, and nobody picked up the phone. I said to myself, “I will try one more time and that’s it.” I was hoping that I could dismiss this idea for good. This time, a novice answered the phone and sent me the information I wanted. Later, a Legionary priest working in the Los Angeles area called and invited me to make a Test Your Call retreat in Cheshire, over Christmas. The youngest of my four sisters had just married in Boston, and my mother missed her a lot, and so when I left for the retreat, I told her I would visit my sister in Boston. My mother agreed immediately. Once I arrived to Logan Airport, I said to my sister and her husband, “Can you take me to Cheshire for a retreat? I will visit you later.” They agreed and took me there. I arrived to Cheshire on Christmas Eve, had a delicious dinner, and asked many questions to the seminarians.They were normal young guys, and they were happy. What people had told me about life in the seminary had held me back for years: that it was boring and unattractive. My personal encounter with the seminarians helped me to see that it was not so: they ate well, played hard, worked hard, and prayed fervently, but there was nothing boring about it. I said to myself, “If these guys can do it, so can I.” I felt at home. Since I had begun my last year in college, the priest who invited me to the retreat told me to finish my math degree before entering the candidacy. I graduated the following spring, and I decided to give God the first shot, before I committed to any sort of teaching job. It was one of the best summers of my life. I met many new people and saw many new places. The program was very complete, including sports, classes, directed prayers, daily Mass and Rosary, weekly confession, spiritual direction, door-to-door missions, even running a marathon. At the end of the program, we all had Ignatian spiritual exercises: eight days of silent retreat, which was a great opportunity to know God more, discover his plan for my life, and to know myself better. On the last day, I received my Legionary uniform. After the retreat, I had no doubt that God was calling me to be a Legionary.

Frankly, the first few months were difficult for me, because I needed to make adjustments, slowly putting away my natural way of doing things and doing God’s will, His way and using His logic. I had to learn that it was by uniting by actions to God that I could grow in holiness, that my own human efforts only have a value when they are done in union with God. It was also an adjustment to live and study with seminarians from many different backgrounds and nationalities. It was really a “Catholic” experience and a very enriching environment of training for my mission to serve God’s people everywhere.


I am very happy and grateful to God for having called and chosen me to continue Christ’s mission in glorifying God the Father and in leading souls to heaven. Even after 11 years of training, honestly, public speaking still makes me nervous. I guess I am just a normal guy. Still, the Gospel message is the treasure I must share and spread. I cannot keep it to myself. As a priest, I have a precious gift: Christ. I have always been very active, and I love adventure. As a Legionary of Christ, I have lived this spirit of adventure more than ever: I have to be ready for any sort of mission, at any time, like the time I was sent to Brazil, even though I had no knowledge of Portuguese. Each new day I understand the purpose of my life and the reasons that God speared my life. Our beloved Pope John Paul II said, “It is a marvelous time to be a priest!”

FR CHAN MINH DINHwas born in Kinh 5A, Rach Gia, Vietnam, on January 10, 1977. He graduated from John Marshall High School in 1995 and obtained his BA in Mathematics at California State University of Los Angeles in 1999. He entered the Novitiate of the Legion of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, on September15, 1999. He studied humanities there, and from 2002 to 2005, he did youth work in Brazil. He studied philosophy in Thornwood, New York from 2005 to 2007 and he studied theology at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome from 2007-2009. In 2009 he worked as a member of the formation team in the Legionaries’ seminary in to the Humanists in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is currently the vice rector at the high-school seminary in Curitiba, Brazil.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained in 2010 have been published in the book "From the Heart of Christ."



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