Visit the Sick: Tan Duong gets ‘second chance’ to bring Jesus to elderly, infirm

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Tan Duong, a member of the ministry of care team at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, brings Holy Communion and a dose of good cheer to Raymond and his wife Lupe on Sunday afternoons. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Tan Duong, a member of the ministry of care team at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, brings Holy Communion and a dose of good cheer to Raymond and his wife Lupe on Sunday afternoons. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

Practical ways to ‘Visit the sick’
  • Sign up for your parish’s ministry of care program
  • Keep visits to the sick brief and cheery
  • Take your kids to visit an elderly relative or neighbor; bring homemade cards
  • If cooking isn’t your thing but you want to contribute a meal, bring takeout food or a gift card when you visit

Tan Duong was 6 years old when his parents put him and his two sisters into a small boat headed for America in order to escape life under Vietnam’s communist regime. The youngest of 11 children, Tan remembers being out on the open sea, facing armed pirates.

He’s 37 now, and when asked how long the group was tossed about on the water, he remembers it as having been for months.

Actually, his sister said, it was only a week, but for a small boy, it must have seemed endless. He’s got other memories too. The family Rosary every night. His mother rising at 5 a.m. each day to walk two miles to the church to attend Mass. They are lessons of faith that stay with him, even now. Especially now.

As a young man, he became a disc jockey for rave parties — not exactly a church-based activity. “I was a party animal all my life. That’s why I didn’t go to school,” Duong said. In spite of all that, he never missed Sunday Mass. Somehow, the faith and the discipline instilled in him as a child stuck. Finally, the emptiness of his lifestyle got to him. One day, he asked himself: Is this all there is?

These days, he’s a college student pursuing a degree in electrical engineering. On Sundays, he attends Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and then visits an elderly, homebound couple in the neighborhood. Raymond, the husband, is receiving hospice care.

Duong brings Holy Communion with him. Drawing up a chair in the modest living room, he asks how Raymond is feeling and how the couple’s daughter is faring in the wake of a bout with pneumonia. After giving them Communion, he tells them he’ll be back the following Sunday to see them again.

“There’s an enjoyment to visiting the sick,” Duong said as he sat in the park across the street from the stucco house. “The elderly and the sick — I know they’re lonely and they don’t get visitors all the time. They like to tell their stories, so it’s good that I can be there to listen.”

One woman he used to visit, Duong said, used to tell him her life’s story. “I knew she needed someone to tell,” he said simply.

Both his grandmothers are currently living with him, something he said is a reflection of the Asian culture’s reverence for the extended family.

“I still have bad habits, but I try to be more conscious about what I do. I always ask myself, is that ethical?”

God, he says, has given him second chances in life.

“I’ve gotten in car accidents where the car flips over and I come out just fine. I see that God has a lot of mercy on me and loves me through that,” Duong said. He still remembers someone who was near death, someone he could have visited but didn’t. It’s because faith hadn’t worked its way into his everyday life at that point, he admitted humbly. Now, he makes visiting the sick a weekly affair, sharing the love and mercy of God that he’s encountered in his own life.

“It’s a responsibility for me to bring Jesus to people in need,” Duong said. “In the past, I failed to do that maybe through the way I lived or my actions. Now I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to bring God to someone else. It’s a blessing and an honor.”

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