Paul Hien Pham Dinh mhm
A journey of 25 years as a Mill Hill missionary priest is not only a journey of many ups and downs, of countless joys as well as sorrows, but also a journey of grace. St Theresa of Lisieux says of everything received in life that "All is grace". My journey of 25 years as a missionary cannot have been without God's grace and his kindness. Looking back over the years that have gone, I feel blessed to have been given a variety of opportunities to work as a missionary priest.
After my ordination in August 1990 in my adopted parish of Nieuwegein, the Netherlands, I was given a short period of pastoral experience in the country which I call my second homeland I wanted to see why the Dutch church, which has sent many great missionaries to different parts of the world for many centuries, has not had many vocations in some of its dioceses since the second Vatican Council. It was very enriching and an eye opener for me to work in a parish in the Netherlands. I had time to improve my Dutch and learn more about Dutch culture and how the Dutch Church functions in a multi-faith society dominated by secularism. Then the time came. I was sent to Sega Parish in western Kenya, and thence to many other parishes and to different ministries in the course of my missionary service in Kenya, in India and now in Uganda.
Paul Hien Pham Dinh mhm
Looking back, I feel a sense of fulfilment that I have been able to journey with so many different people of different countries in different places, from a rural parish to a semi-slum urban parish, doing different things at different times. Working in Sega parish within Kisumu Diocese, I saw the piety of the people and their traditional way of worshipping God. The work mostly focused on the sacramental celebrations. In Shauri Moyo in Nairobi Archdiocase, I learnt immediately that doing parish and pastoral work was impossible without involving small Christian communities, since small Christian communities are the backbone of the parish. In contrast, in Tarasaa in Malindi Diocese, the Christians lived with and among our Muslim brothers and sisters: Christians and Muslims living side by side together.
This situation taught me that I needed to have a spirit of friendship, openness and tolerance. But soon I realised I had become a mediator and peace advocate in a tribal conflict area right in the midst of our parish. Our Christians were mainly farming people, whereas our Muslim brothers and sisters were cattle herders. At times it seemed very difficult to maintain harmony between the two communities. When there was enough rain and grass these two very different peoples co-existed in peace and in harmony. When there was no rain and not enough grass, the cattle would graze in the fields of the farmers and would eat the maize the farmers had planted alongside the Tana River.
Such occurrences caused great tension and conflict between our two communities. Violence and hatred erupted. People's houses were burnt down and some people were even killed. Both communities were affected. Many became displaced. Our Tarasaa mission suddenly became a refugee camp for more than three thousand people. We received help for many months from the Government as well as some nongovernmental organisations. These were very difficult moments for all of us at the mission. Luckily, we were eventually able to persuade people of the different communities to sit together and listen to each other's painful stories through workshops and seminars. The communities were reconciled and things became normal again.
After my sabbatical study, I was asked to go to our Mill Hill Formation Centre in Luanda, Kenya, to accompany young men and women who wanted to discover whether they had a missionary and religious vocation. It was a very different ministry from what I had done before in various parishes. Now I taught and learnt, not from books but from the hearts of these young men and women whom I was asked to accompany. As I began settling in and feeling at home in Luanda, I thought I would be there for quite a long period, but I was soon asked to go to India for formation work.
India is a huge subcontinent and has a huge population too. I had a strange feeling when I arrived in India. I seemed to be acting in a movie. India was full of life, of colour and people. It fascinated me and thrilled me all the time. My work was again concentrated on the formation of young men who wanted to become Mill Hill missionaries. I was stationed at one of our formation houses in Karunapuram in Warangal Diocese in Andhra Pradesh State. I was keen to learn Telugu, one of the hundreds of languages in India, but I failed miserably.
Students at Karunapuram with Fr Michael Corcoran, General Superior
My stay in India was not as smooth as I wanted it to be. I had to leave the country every six months or, at times, three months, owing to visa restrictions. I was on a tourist visa because I was not allowed to have a work permit as a missionary. However, my experience was enriched by the Indian people, their culture, their religions and their celebrations of life.
My work in Karunapuram as a formator was often disrupted by the visa restrictions. And because of such interrupted availability of the (expatriate) formation staff, our young Indian Mill Hill missionaries had to take over the responsibility and make themselves available for the formation work. When I was eventually refused a renewal of my visa, I was withdrawn immediately from India, with pain in my heart. I asked for the chance to undertake further studies in Dublin, Ireland. I worked hard, and greatly benefited from them.
Now I have been working in our Mill Hill Formation House in Jinja, Uganda, since April 2014. Formation work is challenging but also rewarding. I know it is neither my work nor my wisdom that makes these young men good future missionaries, but it is God who calls them as He called me and is still calling me to be faithful to Him, and who will make them whom He wants them to be. All is the grace of God.
On this very special occasion, I want to thank all those who have accepted and welcomed me in their hearts,
Praying for me, supporting me and journeying with me. I am truly grateful to them and also to all my Mill Hill colleagues, my former formators, my former rectors, all the teachers and all those, living or deceased, who taught me the secret of loving and being a happy missionary even when life seems hard. I also want to thank YOU the readers of this Friends of Mill Hill magazine for your prayers, generous support and friendship that you have shown by your living faith in supporting all our Mill Hill missionaries working in different parts of the world. I am truly grateful to you all.
May God bless you abundantly.
Paul Hien MHM
(from: Friends of Mill Hill Magazine)