The much-awaited ordination to the priesthood of Fr Peter Trung Nguyen — which was initially scheduled for April 18, but was postponed because of the Covid-19 lockdown — finally took place on June 6 at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Palmerston North.
It was a very emotional moment for Fr Nguyen when he thanked his mother and father and the rest of his family who couldn’t be there due to the closure of New Zealand’s borders. His voice broke and he had to pause to collect himself.
His family, instead, followed the livestreaming of his ordination on the diocesan website. His parents are in Vietnam, while his five brothers and a sister are in religious and diocesan communities in France, England, American, Colombia, Belgium and India.
“Thank you, Cardinal John [Dew], for ordaining me a priest today, and all clergy and people who are present really and virtually to support me on this special occasion,” he said. He also thanked resigned bishop Charles Drennan, who went to Vietnam and met his (Fr Nguyen’s) family and invited him to serve in Palmerston North.
In his homily at the ordination, Cardinal Dew thanked Fr Nguyen for following Jesus’ call to serve in New Zealand.
“Anyone who makes the decision to follow the call of Jesus and try to live as his disciples, knows that it means that we die to ourselves in some way and in whatever way that is. That’s what gives glory to God,” Cardinal Dew said.
“That’s very true of any of us who choose to follow Jesus and the priesthood, or who accept that he (Jesus) has actually chosen us first. Jesus chose you, Trung.” The cardinal also reminded Fr Nguyen of St Paul’s words to Timothy, “be self-possessed”.
“[Being] . . . self-possessed means being comfortable in who we are before God. Being content in who we are and knowing that God has chosen us for service. And knowing that God chose us and loves us. Being self-possessed is knowing we can do nothing by ourselves. We can only rely on the grace of God and learn to be grateful that God’s grace is always at work in us,” Cardinal Dew said.
As the ordination took place during restrictions on numbers at public gatherings under Covid-19 alert level 2, only 100 people were allowed to be present inside the cathedral itself. Others could view the Mass by livestream in other rooms.
Fr Nguyen told NZ Catholic his journey to priesthood began when he was 12 years old. He left his family home to assist the priest in his parish.
“It was a common practice in Vietnam for young men to serve the parish. Quite a lot of young men wanted to do it. It was a privilege (to be chosen),” he said.
He said even at a young age, there was “something in the back of my mind that said: I want to be a priest”. He went to university in Ho Chi Minh City and studied philosophy.
“I had a lot of fun and had the normal student life. But deep in my heart, I wanted that lasting joy,” he said.
In his fourth year at the university, he met a Kiwi priest who invited him to serve in Palmerston North. He asked his spiritual director for advice and spent a lot of time in retreats before he made the decision.
Initially, his mum had no problem with him becoming a priest, but she didn’t want him to go to New Zealand. She accepted his decision after a while.
“Before I left my family, this is what mum said to me: ‘Go in peace and our prayer is with you and for you. Your happiness is our happiness’,” he said.
Before entering the seminary in New Zealand, Fr Nguyen reportedly learned English at the English Training College in Palmerston North.
He said, as a priest, he would want to strengthen the ties between school and parish. Fr Nguyen was also appointed vocations director of the diocese before his ordination.
“My message to young people is — don’t be afraid to take further steps towards vocation. It might be a challenge, but it is a wonderful journey.”