by KATHLEEN CASEY
When Jesus spoke to crowds, there must at times have been no standing room.
This was how it was in St Mary’s Pro-cathedral for the triple ordination of Thanh Tran, Do Nguyen and Tien Cao to the priesthood on December 5.
It was a proud day — for the parents and relatives of these men who came from Vietnam with limited English seven years ago. Proud for the Vietnamese community, for teachers and mentors, proud for all present.
Emeritus Bishop Basil Meeking as principal celebrant was assisted by Bishop Vien Nguyen, Auxiliary Bishop of Vinh, Vietnam, Vicar-General Fr Rick Loughnan, Msgr Brendan Daly and Fr Simon Eccleton. Bishop Barry Jones had said he was saddened at being unable to attend because of illness.
Music was led by the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament choir under Don Whelan and by the Vietnamese choir.
After being presented, candidates declared their intention to work as priests and promised obedience to the bishop.
In his homily, Emeritus Bishop Meeking said: “Holy Orders will shape [these men] so that they can make present Christ the high priest. They will be unique signs of his presence; offering themselves today for total consecration to God and total consecration to the ministry of the Church: It is not just a job.
“Priests have the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as another Christ… When they baptise, he is baptising, when they bless, he is blessing.”
He encouraged the candidates to keep nourishing their faith by prayer. “Vestments will signify that you have put on Christ. It is like saying ‘Yes!’ ”
After Bishop Meeking laid his hands in silence on the candidates’ heads, the moment of the imparting of the Holy Spirit, all priests present, including many visitors and Vietnamese priests, also laid hands, showing unity within the priesthood.
Bishop Meeking prayed a prayer of consecration and anointed the hands of the three deacons.
At the end of Mass, the new priests gave a general first blessing.
In a written statement, Frs Nguyen, Tran and Cao expressed gratitude to God, indebtedness to their parents for nurturing their vocations, their extended families and great gratitude to the bishops, priests, religious and parishioners of Christchurch for making them feel at home. They asked for continuing prayer.
At a reception at nearby City Church, the newly ordained shared lighter moments of their journey to priesthood, told of their struggles with English, the cold and their initial homesickness.
The priests have returned to be with their parents and families in Vietnam until early February, when they will go back to the seminary until June before receiving placement parishes.
For Thanh Tan Tam Tran, the time of his ordination strongly recalled the late Fr Miles O’Malley, with whom he first lived in New Zealand.
“I only knew 10 words of English. Fr Miles wrote the names of things in the presbytery. It was hard and it was cold, and also the food — I got sick, also homesick. After a few months things began to improve. I was able to develop relationships with several people and I started to enjoy life.”
Fr Tran is one of six boys in a family of nine; he is the third eldest. He said his vocation came from many people. “I wanted to be a doctor, later a politician. But the call was already in my heart: Sometimes it was little, other times it was bigger.”
Every two years their seminary takes about 40 students from 300 applicants. Living near his home are two convents of sisters, one with 140 nuns. It was he said, a hard decision to come to New Zealand, and the first year was tough. But he is elated to be called to the priesthood.
Fr Do Thanh Nguyen
From a family of six, Fr Nguyen attributes his vocation to his parents and a priest mentor. As the second youngest in his family, it was his responsibility to care for his parents in later years.
The latter agreed the next son could take his place and they were happy for him to come to New Zealand.
“They said it was my choice.”
He is “happy, very excited” to function as a priest in this country.
“Vietnam is a missionary country; we received the faith from overseas missionaries. It is time for us to pay back to the universal Church. It is a call for us to open our eyes… I don’t see it as a sacrifice so much as a blessing.”
Fr Tien Chi Cao
Second eldest in a family of six boys, Fr Cao said that, “Both parents are strong Catholics, and ever since I was young I have wanted to be holy. Examples of my parents inspire me to lead a holy life.”
After wanting to be an engineer or a doctor, one Christmas night at the crib changed his life. Immediately afterwards he received a call from his priest uncle in Australia. His question about the priesthood was a turning point, and the young man changed his university course.
The grapevine was working. “My uncle rang me again and asked, ‘Do you want to become a priest in New Zealand?’ “I said ‘Where is New Zealand?’”
Fr Cao asked his mother, who initially said “No”.
Communication and homesickness hit Fr Cao hard in the first year. But, “People here made me feel at home. I am very excited and honoured to become a priest. I don’t mind where. I like New Zealand and the people,” he said