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Former refugee helps other refugees as Salesian priest

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This one-time refugee is now serving others fleeing violence and oppression.

Salesians of St. John Bosco Father Minh Duc Dang, 34, was ordained with three others June 24 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Pelham, N.Y., by Honduras Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga.

Father Minh was born in Vietnam, the second-youngest of Thuy Van Dang and Tin Thi Do’s nine children. His family escaped from Vietnam by boat and spent a year in a Philippines refugee camp in 1991.

They made it to the United States in 1992, first living in Urbana, Ill., for a year before settling in Burke. His parents are parishioners of Church of the Nativity in Burke and also attend Mass at Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Church in Arlington.

Father Minh was influenced by his childhood saying it has always been his dream and hope to work with refugees. “When we were refugees we had a lot of help from strangers,” he said. An Illinois parish sponsored his family, provided plane tickets, found them a place to stay and helped his father and older siblings find work.

Life came full circle for Father Minh last year when he had the opportunity to work with Iraqi and Iranian refugees in Istanbul, Turkey. “It was a beautiful experience of being able to serve,” he said. “Last year, with the help of a translator and volunteers, we were able to run a summer camp for refugee children and open a youth center for young adults in Istanbul.”

While in Turkey, he learned of the refugees’ plight firsthand.

“I have witnessed and heard stories from the refugees about how they were persecuted, especially the Christians driven out from Iraq,” he said. “A majority of them were persecuted because of their faith.” 

The greatest need for refugees now is to know that there is hope for them to find residency in the United States, Canada, Europe or Australia, Father Minh said.

He will return to Turkey for about a month after ordination, before moving on to Alexandria, Egypt. He will work with refugees, learn Arabic, assist at a Salesian Technical School and teach.

Father Minh celebrated his first Mass June 25 at Nativity, a homecoming for him. He said former Nativity pastor Father Richard B. Martin, who died in 2014, was the one he turned to first for advice when he was considering the priesthood.

Father Minh pronounced a perpetual vow of obedience, poverty and chastity Aug. 9, 2015. He earned his bachelor’s in theology at Studium Theologicum Salesianum in Jerusalem in May 2017. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017