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Former Vietnamese boat refugee to head up Australian diocese

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, a former refugee who had fled war-torn Vietnam by boat, has been named by Pope Francis to lead the Diocese of Parramatta in Australia, the Vatican announced on May 5.

The 54-year-old Conventual Franciscan has been working in Australia since 1989 and has been auxiliary bishop of Melbourne since 2011. 

Born in Dong Nai province in what was then South Vietnam in 1961, he was one of hundreds of thousands of boat people who fled the fighting, tyranny and chaos that engulfed the region in the 1970s and 1980s after the Vietnam War.

“Our boat journey was risky. There were more people on board than the boat could carry safely. By the third day, we had run out of food, water and fuel. From then on, we were at the mercy of the elements. On the seventh day, we drifted near an oil rig, half alive and half dead,” he said in an interview with the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 2015.

The bishop and the family members he travelled with were rescued and settled in a refugee camp in Malaysia, where he stayed for 16 months. He was accepted to go to Australia in 1981.

He felt a vocation for religious life when he was a young teenager in Vietnam, he said in the interview, published on the website of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

“It began when I was 13 years of age, living in one of the most turbulent periods of my country’s history. The war and its terrible effects had a profound impact on me,” he said, and the desire to become a priest “was initially motivated by a desire to help people who suffered.”

He was studying at St. Paul’s Minor Seminary for his native Diocese of Xuan Loc, some 64 kilometres north of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), when the communist “Liberation Army arrived and turned it into their barracks. We were expelled, and my desire for the priesthood would remain concealed until I found myself in the free land of Australia,” he said.

He became a friar in 1983 made his profession the next year. He was ordained a priest in 1989 and was made auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI. 

He was superior of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in Australia from 2005 to 2008 and assistant general for the Federation of the Conventual Order for Asia-Oceania from 2008 to 2011.

Bishop Nguyen is the Australian bishops’ delegate for migrants and refugees and chairperson of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

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