05/24/2011, 00.00
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Fr. Vincent Van Long Nguyen: from refugee fleeing for his faith, to bishop in Australia

by Philip Blair
The Vietnamese priest has left the country at 18,, on a small boat with other refugees. Benedict XVI appointed him auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, sparking the joy of the Vietnamese community in Australia. Local priest: his example will serve to increase vocations.

Melbourne (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese community in Australia is celebrating the appointment of Fr Vincent Van Long Nguyen, from the Order of Friars Minor, as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The priest fled the Vietnamese Communist regime in 1980, at age 18, aboard a small boat and will go into history as the first bishop of Asian origins of the continent. The hope is that his consecration will foster vocations among young Vietnamese and strengthen the presence of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Fr. Vincent left Vietnam because he had no chance of becoming a priest in his home country. Relying on Providence, he boarded a small boat, along with other boat people like him, looking for a place willing to welcome him and grant him the freedom to live his vocation.

The new bishop (pictured) arrived in Australia in 1981 and two years later he entered the Franciscans, in Melbourne, beginning his studies to become a priest. On December 30, 1989 he was ordained, then a period of study in Rome where he obtained a licentiate in Christology and Spirituality at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure.

Back in Australia, for four years he led the parish of Kellyville NSW and for seven that of Springvale. In 2005 he was elected superior of the Franciscans, and three years later he returned to Rome as head of the Order for Asia and Oceania.

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, describes Pope Benedict XVI appointment of Fr. Vincent as "historic". [Fr. Vincent] escaped from Vietnam – says the prelate - young and aboard a small boat. He has done a commendable service as a pastor in Springvale, as head of the Order and has made a valuable contribution to the Church. "

The news soon spread within the Vietnamese Catholic community in Australia and around the world. Priests and faithful in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth erupted in joy and organized masses of thanksgiving. Fr. Anthony Nguyen Huu Quang also emphasizes the "historic event" because it means that "the Holy See and the Church in Australia very much appreciates the contribution made by the priests and faithful of Vietnamese origin."

At present there are over 160 priests in Australia of Vietnamese origin, 35 of whom operate in the diocese of Melbourne alone, some evangelizing in the native language, although most work in parishes in the English language. Fr. Paul Van Chi Chu, famous author of the Sydney hymns, admits that he "burst into tears of joy." Fr. Peter Huynh Nguyen Mong broke the news at the end of Sunday Mass the congregation and everyone applauded warmly: "Of course - says the priest - this appointment will lead to an increase in vocations to the priesthood."

About 0.8% of the population in Australia is native to Vietnam. The Vietnamese, in fact, are the fifth migration force in the continent, behind Great Britain (especially England and Scotland), New Zealand, China and Italy. According to data from a 2006 census, there are 159,848 Australians born in Vietnam, and among these, there are more than 30% are Catholic.
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