The secret lives of Vietnam’s Catholic mothers

Light of truth

Mary Nguyen closes the door carefully and says evening prayers with her two children in her room whenever her husband comes home late from work.

And Nguyen, who lives in the house of her Buddhist parents-in-law, quietly takes them to weekend Masses once or twice a month at a church near her own parents’ home in Vietnam’s southern Ho Chi Minh City.

“I have to pretend to her parents-in-law that I take the children to visit my parents so that we can go to church,” the mother said in a low, strained voice.

Her husband and parents-in-law do not want them to embrace Catholicism before they turn 18, when they say the children can decide for themselves what religion to follow. They have threatened to turn her out of their home if she takes the children to church.

Nguyen said they do not know their grandchildren are Catholics as she had them — a girl and a boy — baptized while she was living for months at her parents’ home after she gave birth to them.

She tries to help instill faith in Catholicism while their grandmother regularly takes them to Buddhist temples.

Nguyen, who works for a local printing company, said her husband, a Communist Party member, converted to Catholicism when he married her. However, he subsequently jettisoned the Catholic faith and often checks on whether the children have secretly gone to church.

“I forgive him and try to be a good Catholic so that I can bear witness to the Good News,” said Nguyen, who regularly joins Catholic friends and family members in attending church services and feasts.

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