I needed to finalise some legal papers and asked Father Fatty where I could get them done. I was told to wait for him on a busy street. I didn’t recognise his car which more closely resembled a racing car with big painted stripes running head to tail on the top than a car for a priest.
Leaving the solicitor’s office, he asked me,”Do you want to convert to Catholicism?” I felt a pressure coming from him for me to say yes. I was indebted to Father Fatty for his help in organising another house for me to live with other Vietnamese refugee girls. He had also given help to me on another two previous occasions. I thought that he wanted me to be like all the other girls in the house, so I agreed to convert.
Father Fatty informed me that I needed to learn catechism before the baptism. I was surprised to hear that he would come to take me to the catechism class because I knew he was very busy. We traveled in his car for a very quiet and awkward half an hour. We arrived at a house next to a church which I later found out was his house. The house was dark and crammed with furniture. When Father asked me to take a single armchair and he sat in a similar one opposite me, I realised that I was taking private catechism lesson with Father Fatty. But why didn’t he send me to a class with others? I had lots of questions, but I was too afraid to ask.
I felt shy and uneasy to be alone with him in his house while trying to concentrate on what he said. There was no paper, no pen, just Father talking and smiling. Suddenly at the back of my mind, I remembered what another Vietnamese refugee girl at my previous house had told me: “Lara left and Father doesn’t come to this house anymore. Previously he used to visit us then he would take Lara out in his car going here and there. People suspected that there was something between Father and Lara.” When I first heard this, I found it was appalling that a Christian could badmouth their priest.
Father gave me lesson for one hour then took me back to my house. A few months later, I was baptised. There were no further catechism lessons and I received the confirmation a few months after that. Due to the lack of proper catechism classes, I possessed very little knowledge of my religion then. Only recently, it was explained to me that an adult convert needed to attend catechism classes for baptism and confirmation, each lasted several months with tests to follow before receiving the sacraments.
One day, a Bible reader at a mass told the congregation that the Vietnamese communists used to spread malicious rumours about the priests. The Communists declared that when they raided the churches in Vietnam on suspicion of anti-regime activities, they found packets of condoms hidden underneath the statues of the Virgin Mary or Jesus. I was in shock and wondered why the man brought up the topic at Father Fatty’s mass.
When I decided to leave the religion, I tore down my baptism certificate. More than twenty years later, I couldn’t obtain a copy of my certificate because my Baptism record couldn’t be located.
I wish my life had been different.
If I had not been ignorant.
If I had not been Catholic,
My conversion had not been drastic.
My innocence did have a shock.
My very faith did get a knock.
I have a deep religious doubt,
Where conscience has been all blackout.
by Laura D’Alessandro.