Challenged to keep our faith Print
Living and Learning
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Living and Learning column by Msgr. Daniel T. Ganshert

Afraid. When he mentioned this word, I was surprised because of all he had been through. What could make him afraid now?

His name was An and we had met at a retreat where he told me that he was one of the boat people who fled from southeast Asia some years ago. Government authorities had discovered the Catholic seminary where he was a student.

Catholics were being routinely arrested and placed in re-education camps with all the other prisoners deemed dangerous by the communist leaders. Later, he was released but advised by his bishop to leave and go to another country to study for the priesthood.

Pushing off in the dark of night, he and a few others escaped into the Indian Ocean, where in their small boat they were at the mercy of the blazing sun, little water to drink, and a small supply of food that was soon gone.

Fortunately, a lumbering freighter ship slowed down and An, the only one with enough strength, jumped in and swam over to be hauled on board and given some supplies to last his group a few more days. Just when hope was running out they spotted land and arrived in Indonesia.

Catholic Relief Services was there along with a bishop visiting from the United States. Eventually, An arrived in Pittsburgh to continue his seminary studies.

Whew! What a story. That is why I was so surprised to hear that he was still afraid. Afraid of what? Get this: he was afraid of losing his faith.

Challenged to keep the faith

While in prison he said it was common for others to come to him to talk about Jesus Christ. Even in that challenging environment the strength of the Word of God invited others to freely respond in faith as he shared its message.

An himself was confirmed, again and again, in his love for Jesus Christ through his conversations and his prayer with fellow prisoners.

This is the point. An said it was not difficult to believe while in prison. His faith was deepened, his trust in the Lord grew.

Now, however, many miles and some years away from such a harsh reality, An was no longer facing such brutal intolerance because of his beliefs. Freedom to practice religion in this great country of ours was, in a way, too freeing for him.

No one was confronting him for being a Catholic. It made him fearful as to whether or not he could hold on to his faith in Jesus Christ if no one was going to make him work for it, live it, and share it like he had to back home.

Working for the faith

Even though I lost track of An over the years, the memory of his story makes me think of my faith in Jesus Christ and how I work for it, live it, and share it in this great diocese and great country of mine or I don't.

Even so, the underlying hope and trust that is embodied in An's heroic story of faith brings perspective to the challenges I face, maybe to the challenges you face, too.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. To this day, when I think of An, I think of our Lord who said, "Do not be afraid."

Msgr. Daniel Ganshert is the vicar general for the Diocese of Madison.