Vietnamese Catholics in Australia are celebrating the news that Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Fr Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv as Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He will be the first Vietnamese-born and the first Asian bishop in Australia.

Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Long
The new Bishop-Elect for the Archdiocese of Melbourne escaped from communism in 1980 when he was 18 year old after finding that he completely had no chance to be a priest in Vietnam. Completely trusted in Divine Providence, he left Vietnam in a small refugee boat packed with people seeking freedom.

Arriving in Australia in 1981, in 1983, Bishop Nguyen became a Conventual Franciscan friar and studied for the priesthood in Melbourne. After his priestly ordination on 30 December 1989, he was sent to Rome for further studies and was awarded a licentiate in Christology and Spirituality from the Pontifical Faculty of St Bonaventure.

He served as a parish priest for four years in Kellyville NSW and for seven years in Springvale. He was elected superior of the Order of Friars Minor Conventuals in Australia in 2005. Since 2008, he has been in Rome serving as Assistant General, responsible for the Asia-Oceania section of order.

Welcoming the appointment, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said on Friday: "The appointment of Bishop Vincent as auxiliary in Melbourne is a historic one. He escaped from Vietnam by boat as a young man, came to Melbourne, joined the Conventual Franciscans, and has already given distinguished service as a pastor in Springvale, as a leader in his order and has made a generous and gifted contribution to the Church.”

The news spread quickly among Vietnamese Catholic communities in Australia and around the world. In particular, Vietnamese clergy and faithful in metropolitan cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth have burst into joy in thanksgiving Masses.

“It’s a historic event,” said Fr Anthony Nguyen Huu Quang from Melbourne. “I think it’s a clear sign that the Holy See and the Church in Australia highly appreciate contributions of Vietnamese-born clergy and faithful in this country. With the number of Vietnamese priests in Australia keeps increasing, I have no doubts that there will certainly be a Vietnamese Australian bishop one day. It’s so wonderful that my dream can come to reality so quickly like this.”

There are more than 160 Vietnamese-born priests living in Australia, in which 35 are working in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Some minister to parishioners from their homelands, but most work in primarily English-speaking parishes.

Fr Anthony Nguyen Huu Quang is the Provincial Economer of Salesians of Don Bosco Australia-Pacific. He often has to travel frequently among 16 Salesians communities throughout Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji. However, for decades, he has managed to run a Catholic Magazine in Vietnamese, and a Vietnamese Language weekend school. He is also a vice director of the VietCatholic News, a Catholic agency established in 1996 to distribute Catholic news, commentary, spiritual resources in Vietnamese.

A Vietnamese outstanding hymn writer, Fr Paul Chu Van Chi, living in Sydney, admitted that: “I burst into tears of joy. After so many bad news from Vietnam, it’s so great to know that a boat refugee has become a Melbourne bishop. I would like to thank Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto – the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, and the Church in Australia for this encouraging gesture. I believe that Vietnamese Australian Catholics can and must contribute more for the Church in Australia, and for our Australia.”

Fr Paul Chu Van Chi had been jailed in Vietnam for years before he managed to escape in a small boat.

When Fr Peter Nguyen Mong Huynh announced the news to his congregation on the weekend Mass, they burst into applause. “This historic event surely will have great positive impacts on priestly vocations among Vietnamese youth. It certainly will lead to a surge in vocations to the Priesthood,” he said.

Commenting on priestly vocations among Vietnamese youth, Fr Michael Moore, the Rector of the diocesan Redemptorist Mater Seminary said: “Perth is very multi-cultural. We have had a tremendous response from the Vietnamese community - their Catholic faith is very strong. A vocation is promoted in Vietnamese families and seen as a very good thing.”

Language barriers, cultural differences are primary factors preventing Vietnamese Catholics in Australia from positive responds to their priestly calls.

Fr Michael Pham Quang Hong of Western Australia Catholic community urged his congregation “to thank God, to pray earnestly for the new bishop, to live more faithfully to Gospel, and to trust completely in Divine Providence”.

The priest had been jailed for more than 10 years in communist prison before arriving Australia. He spent most of the 10 years in solitary confinement prison cell where he could see nothing other than a thick darkness around him. But even in that situation, his hope of being a priest was never extinguished.

About 0.8% of the Australian resident population was born in Vietnam; in terms of birthplace, Vietnam has been the fifth-largest source of immigration to Australia, behind the United Kingdom (mainly from England and Scotland), New Zealand, China, and Italy. According to results of the 2006 Census, 159,848 Australian residents declared that they were born in Vietnam. Among them Catholics made up 30.3%.