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In Vietnam, a man with no healthcare background but plenty of Catholic faith is saving babies from death by abortion in a tiny but bustling orphanage-shelter. By J.B. An Dang
BY J.B. AN DANG
Neighbors thought Tong Phuoc Phuc (last name rhymes with
“foo”) had gone mad when he built a cemetery for aborted babies and later
turned his house into a shelter providing alternative services for pregnant
women contemplating abortion. However, Vietnamese Catholics, who struggle to
promote pro-life ideals in a society where abortions far outnumber births, see
something else in him — heroic sacrifice and generosity of spirit.
Phuc, a 41-year-old Catholic building contractor in the
coastal town of Nha Trang, still sounds amazed when he recounts the history of
his pro-life shelter. With no expertise in healthcare, he has already saved 60
babies from death by abortion. And he is humble: He insists he wants no credit
for what he recognizes as God’s work.
His story began on July 13, 2004, when he took home a
pregnant girl who was evicted by her parents and had no place to go. Like other
unwed pregnant women, the girl had few options. She went to a state-run
hospital with the intention of getting a quick and free abortion. She had seen
this as the only sensible choice to save face for her parents — until she met
with Phuc, who persuaded her to seek an alternative.
He even went further, providing residence and financial
support for the homeless mother until she gave birth and once again was
welcomed home by her parents.
Soon after he saved his first baby, more and more pregnant
women knocked at his door asking for help.
“There was a war inside me,” he says. “For every woman who
came to me, there was a tale to be told, many so heart-wrenching. As a
Catholic, I could not turn a deaf ear to their desperate needs. But on the
other hand, with little money and no expertise on health care, what could I do to
Prayerful and Practical Support
One evening he and his wife were praying the Rosary, asking
the Lord to direct them, when a friend came to return the book The Road of Hope
by the late Cardinal Francis Nguyen Van Thuan, who was once bishop of Nha
“It was the answer from God,” recalls Phuc. “I had been an
altar boy for the cardinal for years before he was transferred to Saigon and
arrested. I could imagine that, in such a case, he would say, ‘It is a God
work, just do it and God himself takes care for the rest.’”
Phuc opened wide his door for pregnant women in distress. He
meets the basic needs of those in financial crisis. With unwed mothers, he
offers residence as the alternative of residing away from their locality for
the later months of pregnancy in anonymity.
This full-time service involves Phuc’s entire family and
some volunteers from his parish. His older sister and his nieces help prepare
food and infant formula for 34 babies, while some parishioners sing soothing
Vietnamese lullaby to calm crying kids.
In the past four years, he has taken in 60 children; 26 of
them have been taken home with their mothers. He takes care of the rest until
their mothers can afford to take them. Phuc does not consider putting any of
the children up for adoption. “I want them to be reunited,” he says, “with
Bishop Joseph Vo Duc Minh, coadjutor bishop of Nha Trang,
warmly praises Phuc’s work. “It’s a great pro-life innovation,” he told the
Register. “I have come to his house several times to encourage his work and to
pray with him.”
“In a country where abortion is seen by the government as
the major measure for birth control, more and more women seek quick abortion,”
adds the bishop. “The Church faces an uphill battle to fight against this
anti-life mentality. His initiatives are very encouraging.”
For Father Joseph Tran Thanh Phong, who has worked with Phuc
for years in many pro-life projects, the humble lifesaver is a courageous man
who put all his trust in God’s hands. “He does not have a stable financial
support other than his and his wife’s salaries,” says the priest. “In a country
without welfare benefits, people at his age work hard trying to save money for
future uncertainties. But he and his wife work hard and then spend most of
their money to save babies.”
The diocese does support him financially now and then. But
“Our support is mainly spiritual,” Father Phong admits.
Father Peter Pham Ngoc Phi, his former parish priest, has
supported Phuc from the very beginning of the pro-life shelter. He points to
other kinds of challenges. “Some people do not like his work. Some of them
believe that premarital sex is an evil that should be punished. They falsely
accuse Phuc of condoning premarital sex. Others suspect his work as a means to
seek conversions. So there have been unending rumors against him.”
Phuc’s response to the rumors?
“I do not reply to them. Instead, I pray more intensively,
asking the Lord to give me strength and courage to be his faithful servant.”
He attends daily Mass at Nha Trang cathedral at 5 in the
In the living room of Phuc’s 904-square-foot shelter, where
you can hear the constant chorus of crying, coughing and cooing, Phuc has built
a beautiful altar adorned with a large crucifix, the Virgin Mary and a photo of
Pope John Paul II. Opposite the altar is a large table where the women gather
for family-style meals, exchanging stories of broken hearts and hard lives, and
for sharing cooking tips.
Says Nguyen Thi Ngoc Thao, a Buddhist mother of two who was
thrown out by her husband when she refused to terminate her pregnancy: “In this
house, I experience true love.”
J.B. An Dang is based in
Perth, Western Australia.