Former Vietnam boat refugee to lead Aussie diocese

Pope Francis has appointed a former refugee, who fled war-torn Vietnam by boat in 1979, to lead the Australian diocese of Parramatta.

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, 54, begins his new role after serving as a Conventual Franciscan since 1989 and as auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne since 2011.

Parramatta, in western Sydney, is one of the largest Catholic dioceses in Australia and is a favourite destination for new migrants.

“Coming to Australia by boat as a refugee from Vietnam, I found myself a newcomer in Melbourne. I now consider myself a newcomer to the diocese of Parramatta,” Bishop Long said.

“My appointment is not just about me or an individual honour, but it’s an affirmation and recognition on the part of the universal Church of the gifts and contributions that migrants and refugees can make to the Church and also to society,” Bishop Long said.

“It has a strong and relevant message to the nation at this point in time as we tend to be a bit less welcoming to people who arrive by boat.”

Bishop Long initially felt a calling to the priesthood as a teenager and he studied in a seminary near Saigon.

In 1975, Vietnam’s new rulers started closing religious training colleges and Bishop Long followed two older brothers and fled overseas.

He escaped on a 17-metre boat jam-packed with 147 refugees.

“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.

During his time in the camp, he taught himself English.

He was accepted to go to Australia in 1981.


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