Obituary: Mgr Peter Dao Duc Diem

December 1939 - January 2003 Mgr. Peter Dao Duc Diem was born on 14 December 1939 in the village of Lang Gian, Nam Sach District, Hai Duong Province in North Vietnam. He was the second of four children of a good Catholic family of three boys and one girl. His father died when he was just 10 years old and his eldest brother also died at a young age. For security reasons, after his father's death, his mother took him and the other children, along with other Catholic families to the village of Kim Bich, a large parish in the district. After a while, when he had completed the 4th year in the local primary school, his family moved again to the provincial town of Hai Duong. In 1951, he entered Den Thanh School. In 1952 he began training as an altar boy supervised by Brother Toan. The next year, he was officially accepted at Quang Yen Minor Seminary. In 1954, after the Geneva Conference, which divided Vietnam into two parts, North Vietnam under the Communists and South Vietnam under the Republic, he followed his mother, brothers and sister in their exodus to South Vietnam. There he entered the Chan Phuoc Liem Minor Seminary in Binh Duc, My Tho. After taking his GCSE in 1959 in My Tho, he went up to Saigon to continue his education at Nguyen Ba Tong High School. From the middle of 1962, he studied philosophy and theology at the Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Saigon. During that period, he suffered another bereavement; his mother died on 7 October 1963. Her death left him with an intense feeling of loneliness but having already entrusted everything into God's providence, he carried on with determination on the road to which God had called him. At the end of the first year in theology, he received the minor orders and was assigned to some pastoral works in a parish as well as some teaching at the junior seminary in Dalat. He was ordained priest on 1 May 1969 in the Cathedral of Dalat by Bishop Simon Hoa Nguyen Van Hien. After the ordination he was assigned as one of the assistant priests at the Cathedral of Dalat. He was given a variety of tasks: instructing engaged couples, catecumens, teaching religious education in Tri Duc school, coordinating with religious orders (men and women) and all Catholic schools in the Diocese. For six years, he devoted himself fully to the pastoral work entrusted to him. The political upheaval of 30 April 1975, however, changed the course of his life. On 29 July 1979, after fourteen failed attempts, he managed to escape to the sea for freedom. After eight days adrift on the seas, being ignored by a lot of passing vessels, he was rescued with other boatpeople by a British ship and brought to a refugee camp in Singapore. In January 1980, he was allowed to come to Britain. He became a priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham and was attached to the Parish of St Francis, Handsworth. With the full support and help of Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville and the Parish Priest of St Francis, Mgr Thomas Fallon, he worked tirelessly for the refugees. He was awarded the title Monsignor in January 1990 for his work for the Vietnamese Chaplaincy. On the occasion of his Silver Jubilee, Mgr Peter Diem said: "If one looks to the future, twenty-five years is so long. If one looks back to the past, twenty-five years is so short. Through a lot of events and trials with happiness and humiliation during the last twenty five years of service, I could only overcome all the difficulties thanks to God's grace and the prayers and sympathy of many good parishioners." Under his pastoral care, the Vietnamese Catholic communities in the UK and Ireland continue to grow. In addition to the two centres: one in Handsworth, Birmingham, and the other in Poplar, London, he was given a church in Bow Common Lane for the use of the Vietnamese Chaplaincy. Together with his assistants, Fr Peter Nguyen Tien Dac in Birmingham, Fr Paul Huynh Chanh and Permanent Deacon Paul Ly Trong Song in London, he has been devoted to the mission of building up a deeper spiritual life for Vietnamese Catholics in England. On 14 January 2003, he left for his first visit to Vietnam after twenty-three years living in the UK. He stayed in Saigon for a few days to see his relatives and friends. Then he went to North Vietnam to visit some more people, especially the newly ordained bishop of his home province. On his way back to the South, he made a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Lavang. Leaving there, he went to Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. It was in Hue there that the tragedy of his death happened in his hotel room at about 10.00am on Saturday, 25 January. Father John Minh, on behalf of the Vietnamese community, said: "We are all shocked by the news of his sudden death. The Vietnamese Catholics in the UK and Ireland are tearful because of this great loss. We miss him not only as a pastor sent to us by God through the Archdiocese of Birmingham, but also as a father of our own blood and flesh. We pray that his family and all of us may receive God's consolation at this sad time. May our beloved Mgr Peter Dao Duc Diem be rewarded with eternal happiness in God's Kingdom." See Listings, or the following story for details of the Requiem Mass in Birmingham. Source: Archdiocese of Birmingham

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