When Kinh van Nguyen started at Holy Cross Seminary four and a half years ago, he was worried about many things.
Having come from Vietnam, he was relatively new to this country. He had only been speaking English for a short time. He was worried about studying complex subjects like Philosophy and Theology in this language.
But fast forward to 2023, and he was able not only to graduate with a Bachelor of Divinity degree – he achieved the highest overall grades in his graduating class.
Mr Nguyen, who is a seminarian for Wellington archdiocese, gave the valedictory address at the Te Kupenga – Catholic Theological College graduation ceremony in Ponsonby on May 26.
In his address, he said that, four and a half years ago, he would not have dared to imagine that he would be delivering such a speech.
“There is no doubt that this is the biggest honour I have been granted since I arrived in New Zealand,” he said.
“ . . . I would never have achieved this without God’s grace, and the hard work of many people at Te Kupenga and Holy Cross.”
The main theme of Mr Nguyen’s speech was gratitude.
“First of all,” he said, “I would like to give thanks to God, for bringing me here to be formed at Te Kupenga and at Holy Cross, so that I can be the person that I am today.”
“I want to thank God because of the marvellous love and grace I have received during the last four years and a half in this beautiful place. Without God’s grace I would never have been able to integrate myself into my formation.”
Mr Nguyen, the youngest of eight children, thanked his family for their love, support and endless prayer for him.
“Life is more difficult without your family around, but whenever I think of their love, their support,” it consoles and heartens, he said.
Gratitude was also expressed for his bishop in his home diocese in Vietnam, and for Archbishop Paul Martin, SM, in Wellington.
Mr Nyugen, who has a degree in sociology from Ho Chi Minh City, gave special thanks to the staff at Te Kupenga and Holy Cross.
“During my four years of formation here, I have witnessed various good examples you guys have set. The love you have for the Church. The love you have priestly and religious vocations, and the love you have for the people you are ministering to.
“My hope is that, one day, I can also set an example [as] you guys have done for me and my friends at the college and at the seminary.”
He said that the “wise guidance” of the staff meant that theology and philosophy became understandable for him. He added that, whenever he had a question, he always found a “smiling face”, and a staff member happy to have a discussion.
Mr Nguyen also thanked his friends, saying that, “without your friendship and brotherhood, I think my life would be very lonely. Without your sharing I think I could not be persevering”.
As well as thanking visitors and supporters, Mr Nguyen had a special word for those graduating.
Graduation is a landmark, and “we can be proud of after years of hard work”.
“But it is also a new beginning. Today, let us keep learning more about our loving God. And together let us give life to what we have studied, to serve our Christian brothers and sisters in this beautiful country of Aotearoa New Zealand.
“My hope and prayer is that the work we do individually will bear fruit as the Good Shepherd desires.”
Mr Nguyen added: “May God continue to pour his abundant grace upon you, your life, your family and your ministry, and may the Holy Spirit always be active in our lives so that, whatever we do, we do for the glory of God.”
The graduation address was given by Te Kupenga Catholic Leadership Institute chief executive Robert Blucher, who recalled comments made by Pope Francis on his recent visit to Hungary.
The Pope “mentioned the challenges we all face”, Mr Blucher said, “including secularism, materialism, hedonism, polarisation and division within the Church”.
“These are the challenges that you face as you take the next step into the wide world,” Mr Blucher told the graduates.
“These challenges of the modern world can lead us to two contrary temptations, which our Pontiff has called ‘bleak defeatism’ and ‘worldly conformism’.”
“ . . You are called upon to take what could be called the hard road,” Mr Blucher told the graduates.
“ . . . [You are called] to use the grace of discernment to approach these challenges of the modern times with openness, and to find ways to strengthen faith, and understand contemporary issues more deeply.”
Mr Blucher gave five pieces of advice for the graduates to consider: Know and be yourself; Listen – to God and to others; Act – take action, do something and don’t sit back; Look forwards – play a part in the future which we all share; And most importantly, sing and dance.