By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
STURBRIDGE – Communists had closed seminaries and imprisoned some Christians. One prisoner’s sister asked a seminarian to take her brother Communion. Upon arrival, the seminarian saw an armed policeman, and quickly left.
The seminarian went back the following day. What happened next was something he described as a miracle of the Eucharist.
Father Peter Tam M. Bui, pastor of Our Lady of Vilna Parish in Worcester, preached about this personal experience he had in his native Vietnam at the 136th annual Novena to St. Anne Sunday. The novena at St. Anne Shrine and St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish is held July 18-26. Each night clergy and laity from different places, or ethnic groups, lead the novena.
Like the other priests, Father Bui, main celebrant on Vietnamese night, included in his homily the novena’s theme: “My flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). Assumptionist Father Alex Castro, St. Anne’s pastor, said that having this theme was a way for the parish to participate in the National Eucharistic Revival.
Father Bui told the congregation and The Catholic Free Press about an experience he had as a seminarian in 1977 in Vietnam. He said this was the first time he told this story.
After the Communists took over South Vietnam in 1975, they closed the seminary where he was studying, he said. He asked for permission to take the Eucharist to a religious brother whose sister requested it. The bishop got a priest at the seminary to give him a host. (Seminarians had been sent home, but the priests kept the seminary chapel open.)
The prisoner, a member of the Missionaries of the Poor, was at that point in the hospital, guarded by a policeman with a gun.
So, the young seminarian left, taking the host to his parents’ house, where he was staying. He placed the host on the family altar, where religious statues were kept, and tried to keep Jesus company, but fell asleep. At 4 a.m. he awoke and rode his bicycle back to the hospital. He carried the host in a handkerchief in his pocket since he didn’t have a pyx.
The prisoner was not in bed. Father Bui said he guessed he was in the bathroom. There was still an armed policeman on the ward, but he pretended he had to use the restroom. There he found the prisoner.
“The body of Christ,” the young seminarian said, giving him the host immediately.
“I left right away without any (other) words,” because of the policeman’s presence, Father Bui recalled.
He described as a miracle the circumstances that enabled him to sneak the host to the prisoner despite the Communist policeman’s presence. He said he thought Jesus protected him; he could have been imprisoned himself if someone discovered what he did.
Through the Eucharist, Jesus is present with us to the end of time, Father Bui said. He encouraged the congregation to trust in the miracle of the Eucharist during the Eucharistic Revival.
Father Castro started the novena off on the St. Anne Parish night July 18, giving a background for the National Eucharistic Revival. He told of a PEW survey which found that about one third of Catholics believe in the Church’s teaching that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. From that arose the idea of having the revival, which the bishops approved, he said. It started on the feast of Corpus Christi in June 2022.
The novena with a eucharistic theme also includes a rosary procession and culminates in Mass each night, he noted. He expressed hope that the novena would enkindle in attendees a living relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist we become the real presence of Christ to others, he said.
“I just feel like every year we pick a really good theme” for the novena, said Patricia Haggerty, first Communion teacher at St. Anne’s.
“I think we have to bring this to everyone’s attention,” she said of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, and this was a good way to do that.
“You have to take these words seriously; you’ve got to believe that it is the body of Christ,” said Joseph Henry, who has recently joined the parish.
Father Rosanno Soriano, preaching on Filipino night, July 22, spoke of being “taken,” “blessed,” “broken” and “given” to become life for the world. The Missionary of La Salette from the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro was speaking of Jesus and of us.
Being chosen gives us a sense of purpose, and we live not just for ourselves, but for God and others, he said. He spoke of blessing others as speaking good about them, affirming their worth. Being broken, like parents are for children, is painful, but necessary in order to be given to others, he said.
By acknowledging that Jesus is flesh for the world’s life, we will become more alive, said Assumptionist Father Édouard Shatov, who preached on the lay Assumptionists’ night. He is director of pastoral programs and conferences at the Assumptionists’ Culture and Faith Center in Quebec City, Canada.
He told The Catholic Free Press that “to be flesh is to have a history of relationship.” One can touch flesh, and Jesus touches us, blessing us and giving us life, he said; “we receive this gift in the Eucharist.”