Vietnam's oldest bishop has died

Bishop Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu

Bishop Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu

The death was announced yesterday, 10 June, of Bishop Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu, nearly a month after his 100th birthday.

Bishop Michael Nguyen lived through some very difficult times in the country's history, and at the end of his life witnessed a new wave of persecutions in the diocese he founded.

Born on 14 May 1909 in the northern diocese of Thai Binh, he entered St Therese Minor Seminary in Lang Son diocese in 1922, and later traveled to France for further study and was ordained there as a priest in 1934.

After returning to Vietnam, he taught at a minor seminary, cared for two parishes and served as the secretary of the apostolic delegation, then based in Hue, central Vietnam.

In 1954, after the communist takeover of the North, Church activities were strictly limited, foreign missioners were expelled, and many local priests were killed. Amid continual chaos, he decided to lead his parishioners to the South. They settled in Long Xuyen where he spent his ministry as a builder in many ways: helping to create some of the church buildings in his diocese as well as evangelizing in remote areas.

He built the Queen of Peace Cathedral, two minor seminaries, a major seminary and many educational centers at parishes.

Long Xuyen diocese was established on Nov. 24, 1960, with Bishop Michael Nguyen as its first prelate.

At the time it was established, the diocese had 20,000 people in 12 parishes and some sub parishes. The diocese has now grown to 240,000 Catholics in 108 parishes and 45 sub parishes, served by 240 priests.

On the day of the communist takeover of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, he ordained his coadjutor Bishop Jean Baptiste Bui Tuan and passed the care of the diocese to Bishop Jean Baptiste Bui.

Bishop Jean Baptiste Bui, in his turn, retired and handed the administration of the diocese to Bishop Joseph Tran Xuan Tieu on Oct. 2, 2003. Up to yesterday, the diocese had the grace to have three generations of bishops.

On May 14, at the diocesan Cathedral, Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Saigon and 21 archbishops and bishops throughout the country concelebrated a special Mass to celebrate his 100th birthday, and other two great milestones: 75 years since he was ordained a priest and 50 years since he was made a bishop. The bishops were joined by 260 priests, 140 Religious and 1,200 lay Catholics.

Talking about the late bishop, Bishop Joseph Tran Xuan Tieu of Long Xuyen praised his ascetic lifestyle.He said: "He lived in a 20-square-metre room with an old bed and without a television or personal computer."

Bishop Joseph said the late bishop set a shining example to others by devoting much time each day to prayer, and never missing daily Mass even when ill.

He read books and newspapers daily and kept active until he died. Bishop Joseph  said.

The three seminaries that Bishop Michael Nguyen founded trained hundreds of seminarians before being confiscated by the government after 1975, when the country was reunified by communists.

Educational centres at parishes were also confiscated in 1975.

Bishop Michael did not live to see the return of most of the church properties he beuilt. 

Only six days before he died, the monastery of the Congregation of the Brothers of The Holy Family of Banam (Frères de la Sainte Famille de Banam, FSF) in Long Xuyen, South Vietnam was demolished by the authorities.

To date, local government has not announced its intention for the future use of the land, nor informed the diocese of its decision to tear down the building.

The altar and religious statues were also discarded in a rubbish dump without informing the diocese or the religious order being asked to come and retrieve those items.


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