Approximately 50 Sutton Coldfield Catenians and guests enjoyed a memorable night on June the 13th, being the occasion of the circle’s June meeting, listening to Father Michael Ho Huu Nghia Parish Priest of Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield, being interviewed by Past President Peter Westbrook. The theme of the interview was the surprises he has experienced and who would he invite to dinner and why.
One of Father Michael’s most significant experiences was as a ‘boat person’ fleeing Vietnam. Along with 76 other people, they endured 17 days at sea. Towards the end of that period, a lady gave birth to a child in front of everyone in the boat. Father Michael prayed for rescue and vowed that if they were rescued he would ‘try to be good man all his life’. Right on cue, a British ship rescued them the following day. For the first time, he experienced British tea and perhaps more importantly the compassion the crew showed them. This surprised him as he had seen very little of it before! Indeed one of the things he loves about the British is the amount of compassion shown to other people; another great surprise.
Whilst most of his boat comrades opted for settlement in the USA, Canada, or Australia, Father Michael was determined to go to the UK as he had been rescued by a British ship. He was temporarily settled at Eccleshall in Staffordshire (which ironically is Celtic for Church place) where he was surprised to hear a fellow inmate state that he had left one hell to go to another, owing to the weather. However, he was surprised when this fellow inmate stayed and became an eminent surgeon in Manchester. It was whilst at Eccleshall, a local catholic priest Father Sandy Brown came to see them all and offered comfort and any treats. Father Michael asked for a bible, not only for his Christian faith but also to help him learn English. 20 years later, Father Michael received an immense surprise when listening to Father Brown recount the story of him giving a bible to some poor Vietnamese refugee in Eccleshall, and this resulted in that person learning more about Christianity resulting in him becoming a priest. The astonished congregation then heard Father Michael say afterward that he was that poor Vietnamese refugee!
Father Michael’s brother, was another boat person who left Vietnam and became interned in Indonesia. However, after a certain period, the authorities were determined to send such interns back to Vietnam. Father Michael was desperate to help his brother but didn’t know how, until someone suggested he write to the British Prime Minister John Major. Father Michael was surprised to not only receive a reply but also that his brother would be released and sent to the UK.
Father Michael, studied in Rome for the priesthood and was surprised to meet Pope John Paul the second on a number of occasions and recounted how the Pope addressed him and remembered him. He was there when the Pope was shot and subsequently forgave the perpetrator. A great inspiration for the young aspiring priest.
On being asked who he would invite to dinner, Father Michael equivocated but when pressed said it would be Archbishop Bernard Langley of Birmingham, Daniel Hurd, Father Gwilym Lloyd of St Anne’s Streetly (a longstanding friend). When reminded that this was still short a list he desperately added two more Peter and Sandra Westbrook. When asked about what the meal would be, he recounted Archbishop Bernard’s visit to Holy Trinity when he clearly enjoyed Fish and Chips from ‘Be my Chip’ in Sutton Coldfield.
The interview lasted an hour but could have lasted many more, as it was clearly apparent that many more anecdotes and stories were still to be explored. The audience was captivated by Father Michaels’ humility, experiences, and of course his humor. It was an excellent evening.