Prayer and community sustained Fr Henry Huu Duc Tran as he escaped war-torn Vietnam and Cambodia. Today, prayer and community are the pillars of his thriving parish, Our Lady of Lourdes at Seven Hills.
In 1984, Fr Duc escaped to Cambodia after being conscripted to the Vietnamese army. “In Cambodia, we were living in constant fear. There were people with guns everywhere and you were worried about getting killed,” he said.
There was no longer a Catholic Church in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital city. “The only thing we could do to sustain us in faith was to get together as a group and pray the rosary and all the prayers that we could remember.”
Fr Duc believes these experiences “kept us together and helped us survive our ordeal”. This ordeal included being imprisoned for two weeks with the other former seminarians.
Rescue came in the form of a refugee visa to Australia, after making it to a refugee camp in Thailand. “I was a prisoner and was set free,” Fr Duc said.
In Australia Fr Duc found the freedom to practice his faith and continue studies.
Here, Fr Duc met Bishop Long, a fellow ex-boat person, while they were both seminarians: “I was privileged to know him before ordination to the priesthood,” Fr Duc said.
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish is a strong community. “Not just the parish, not just the school, we are one community,” Fr Duc said.
Many members of the parish spend long hours serving the Church and the needy. John and Mary Jordan have opened and closed the parish church, almost every day for the past 50 years. They form a team with Ernie and Edith Gartner.
When pressed for inspiration about such dedicated service, John said, “It’s just the Catholic way.” John clearly loves the parish, “Everybody who comes here says this is a friendly place and they like the church building as well.”
Mary points to St Mary MacKillop of the Cross as a personal inspiration. Both help organise the lively Over-50s group, whose 70 members meet regularly for fellowship.
Recently, a former refugee spoke to the ‘Over-50s’ Group about his experiences. He learned English from the University of Sydney Vinnies group, which visits the parish regularly.
Debra Price has been the parish secretary for more than ten years. She goes above and beyond to care for parishioners in times of grief and hardship.
Debra realised that she could save the refugee students money by cooking dinner for them. Others were inspired by her initiative and now an organised roster exists to cook for those in need.
During the Year of Mercy, the parish was raising funds for an East Timor parish with the Mercy Box program. The students from Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School drew designs for the boxes, which were selected and produced en masse. In total, more than $2000 was raised.
Judy Barden is the Youth and Sacramental Coordinator. She produced hundreds of these colourful boxes. A special moment for Judy was when her daughter made one of the selected designs.
The unity of the community is expressed most of all in their commitment to Christ and living according to God’s plan. “Here, we are just starting to prepare the young people for mission and helping the poor,” Judy said.