April 1, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Andrew Si Thu and his wife, Angela Chit Hwe, live in Bowling Green, Ky. after coming to the U.S. as refugees from Myanmar, and survived the tornadoes that devastated the region during the night of December 2021. Si Thu, a Buddhist, was inspired to become Catholic through the witness of his wife. Si Thu plans to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil at Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green on April 1. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW SI THU

A change of heart: In turning to God after tornadoes, woman’s faith inspires husband to enter Catholic Church


After tornadoes in December 2021 killed several of their neighbors and severely damaged her family’s house, Angela Chit Htwe knew the only thing she could do was pray.

“I went to church by myself and prayed. I thanked God that I was alive and prayed for all who had died,” said Chit Htwe, who speaks Burmese and communicated with The Western Kentucky Catholic through an interpreter.

Chit Htwe and her husband, Andrew Si Thu, live in Bowling Green, Ky. They came to Kentucky as refugees from the ongoing political turmoil in their home country of Myanmar (also known as Burma), which has struggled with internal conflict for decades – including a military coup in February 2021 that overthrew the elected government.

Settling in a subdivision in Bowling Green and surrounded by neighbors who came to the U.S. as refugees and immigrants themselves, Chit Htwe and Si Thu felt this would be a safe place to raise their two daughters.

At the same time, the husband and wife frequently experienced internal conflict between the beliefs of Chit Htwe, a devout Catholic; and Si Thu, a Buddhist with a strong prejudice against Catholicism.

Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than, associate pastor at Holy Sprit Parish in Bowling Green, Ky., interprets for Angela Chit Htwe, a Myanmar Catholic, during an interview inside her home in Bowling Green March 3, 2022, weeks after a tornado devastated her community. Her husband, Andrew Si Thu, a Buddhist who came to Bowling Green as a refugee from Myanmar as well, was inspired to become Catholic through the witness of his wife. Si Thu plans to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil at Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green on April 16. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Chit Htwe belongs to Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green, which is home to the Myanmar Catholic ministry within the Diocese of Owensboro. Participating in her parish has always been important to Chit Htwe, but Si Thu was at best unsupportive, and at worst antagonistic toward her faith.

The family’s life was torn apart when a series of tornadoes devastated western Kentucky during the night of December 10, 2021.

While their family was spared, they lost half of their roof and eventually learned that their neighborhood had experienced the most fatalities in Bowling Green.

Tragically, they discovered on the TV news that the entire family of their daughter’s best friend had died in the storms.

“I had never experienced any sort of (natural) disaster in my life,” said Chit Htwe, adding that at first, “I didn’t know how to react.”

She decided to go to Holy Spirit Parish to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

But after Chit Htwe returned home, her husband began to shout at her, asking, “Why are you so stupid?” and berated her for turning to her Christian God, who did not seem to have stopped any of the devastation or pain.

Chit Htwe said nothing.

Finally, after a period of shouting – and Chit Htwe remaining silent – Si Thu stopped.

He looked at his wife and said, “I am so sorry.”

He then added, “I want to know the God that you worship.”

This moment, Chit Htwe later shared, was the first time her husband had ever apologized to her in their duration of living together.

Chit Htwe explained to her husband that “we do not worship God only when we are wealthy and in a good place – we also do when suffering.”

Something shifted in Si Thu, and he decided that he wanted to become Catholic.

Stunned but cautiously optimistic, Chit Htwe connected Si Thu with Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than, the associate pastor at Holy Spirit Parish. Fr. Van Lan Than himself is from Myanmar and leads Myanmar Catholic ministry at the parish.

Fr. Van Lal Than visited the family shortly thereafter and Si Thu expressed his desire to enter the Catholic Church.

“I came by to see if this was a genuine conversion and I believe it is,” said Fr. Van Lal Than.

A sign is pictured on the door of a destroyed building in Bowling Green, Ky., March 3, 2022, reading “By God’s Grace we Survived” after a tornado ripped through the town during the night of Dec. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Fr. Van Lal Than, who grew up in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, has studied the Buddhist religion and even has many friends who are Buddhist. He explained that Buddhism itself does not promote violence and hatred toward other religions, but that was how Si Thu had interpreted it.

He said Si Thu began asking question after question about Catholicism.

“He has never studied theology but his questions were so profound,” Fr. Van Lal Than told The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Since then, Si Thu has begun the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) process in order to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year.

He meets regularly with Fr. Van Lal Than since he does not speak a great deal of English, and would not be able to fully participate in the parish’s standard RCIA sessions. Fr. Van Lal Than told The Western Kentucky Catholic that Si Thu is one of six local Myanmar people who will enter the Church this spring.

Si Thu has some coworkers who are Catholic, and he has started asking them questions about their faith. If their answers do not satisfy him, he writes down his questions in a notebook and presents them to Fr. Van Lal Than.

He also spends time reading the Gospels and writing down more questions to ask the priest.

Chit Htwe does her best to answer her husband’s eager questions too, such as explaining why ashes are used on Ash Wednesday or why meat is not eaten on Lenten Fridays.

Chit Htwe said she recently explained why the externals do not matter as much as the internal: “Ashes are just an external sign – you must purify your heart too,” she told him.

This concept of internal transformation has helped to form a path of healing from the years of hostility in their marriage.

In terms of becoming Catholic, Chit Htwe has urged him “don’t do this because of me” – she wants him to become Catholic for himself, which he said is his goal.

The change in Si Thu has made a marked difference in their family life overall. He is kinder to Chit Htwe. He apologized to their daughters for his short temper – which is still a struggle, “but so much has changed,” said Chit Htwe.

While he previously despised Catholic music, he now plays Catholic songs in their house.

Chit Htwe sees this as the fruit of many years of prayer for her husband, during which she would pray for more patience with him “and to change his heart.”

Fr. Van Lal Than said he knows about Si Thu’s previous struggles and that, “I have seen a huge change in him now. He is very active now, asking questions, very engaged.”

“I think it is the Holy Spirit,” he said.

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