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.