From Confucian to Catholic nun

Sr. Mai Thanh, right, was a key speaker at a seminar on women's empowerment, marking International Women's Day in 2011. (Teresa Hoang Yen)

Sr. Mai Thanh, 86, former provincial of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Vietnam, is now engaged in interfaith activities. A devoted daughter and poet, she was born to a Confucian family and converted to Catholicism, which her father, a government official and Confucian devotee, considered a foreign religion, especially because it banned its followers from conducting ceremonies to worship their ancestors.

Global Sisters Report: What led you to Catholicism?

Thanh: When I was a child of 8, I saw a dozen villagers a day dying from cholera, and I asked Mom, "Why must people die? Where do they go after death?"

She explained it under the Buddhist concept of transmigration: People's souls pass into another body after their death; they might become animals if they have not lived a good life.

My dad's answer was that Confucius did not understand properly what life and death were, but it was important for people to live with human dignity.

I was dissatisfied with such explanations until I visited a Catholic church years later. I saw a painting of a beautiful woman who was casting roses down to the earth. I also read the inscription, "From heaven I will pour with a rain of roses."

I left the church with a glimmer of hope that heaven relates to the earth, so death is not an end.

Read the full story at Global Sisters Report.
A version of this story appeared in the Sept 26-Oct 9, 2014 print issue under the headline: From Confucian to Catholic nun .

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