Once a prisoner in Vietnam, is new bishop of Kamloops

KAMLOOPS, B.C., Canada (Monday, September 12, 2016, Gaudium Press) The Diocese of Kamloops has witnessed the ordination of a bishop on its own soil for the first time in its 70-year history.

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Bishop Joseph Nguyen was ordained in the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, a few blocks away from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Aug. 25.

“Today, I begin a whole new part of my ministry,” said Nguyen as he took the podium after the solemn ceremony.

“I greet in a very special way the clergy, religious, seminarians and lay people of this great diocese of Kamloops. I am ordained for you. I come as your shepherd.”

The rural British Columbia diocese has 65 parishes and missions, including 30 churches on First Nations lands. It was established Dec. 22, 1945, and has since welcomed five bishops, not one ordained on its own soil. Nguyen, stepping in as the sixth bishop to replace Bishop David Monroe, has broken that trend.

More than 2,000 guests from Canada, the United States and Vietnam witnessed the historic occasion.

“Thank you for accepting this appointment from the Holy Father,” said Msgr. Fermin Sosa Rodriguez, speaking on behalf of Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the papal nuncio to Canada.

Rodriguez praised Nguyen for his “dramatic legacy” as a faithful young man who fled Vietnam as a refugee in 1987 to pursue his dreams of becoming a priest, and then serving the Archdiocese of Vancouver for 24 years.

“I am confident that your personal experiences and sacrifices which have profoundly influenced your life as a priest will help you in your episcopal ministry to achieve the goal of bringing Christ to those who are thirsty, who are uprooted and displaced, and who are in need of love and care,” he said.

“You will accompany them and enable them to overcome upheaval so they will rely increasingly upon the grace of God.”

The eldest of 10 children, Nguyen’s journey to Canada and the priesthood was not an easy one. Born to a Catholic family in Vietnam, he made two escape attempts, spent some time in a Vietnamese prison, then overcame culture shock when he arrived in Canada with little English. His plans for an ordination in Vietnam were foiled when the Communist government took over all Catholic hospitals, schools, and seminaries. After being repeatedly imprisoned for instructing catechists, he boarded a boat that would secretly convey him and other passengers out of the country.

Looking back on his experiences, Nguyen, until the end of May the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, said sometimes God gives people challenges to help them grow stronger.

“Everything that happens in life becomes a message from God. Through the hard times and also the good times all becomes a message from God. Through hardship we persevere and remain faithful. God will find a way for you, if you are faithful to Him.”

The new bishop told his flock, “As a bishop, I am your shepherd. As a Catholic, I am your brother.”

Among the more than 2,000 guests were members of Nguyen’s family, including his father and a sister, who is a nun, and about 130 priests, including two former heads of the Diocese of Kamloops: Archbishop Adam Exner, OMI (1974-1982), and Monroe, who retired after turning 75 this year.

Monroe served the diocese, which spans 120,000 square kilometres of B.C. forest, desert, lake and mountain, for 14 years.

Source B.C. Catholic and The Archdiocese of Vancouver

Father Joseph Phuong Nguyen

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