At 18, I did not see any light for my future. Then I found faith
By Thien Nguyen
The Age, June 19, 2022
I was born into a Catholic family of 12 children during the Vietnam War.
Father Thien Nguyen.
The fall of Saigon happened when I was six years old. My family and most families in the south of Vietnam were faced with great fear, despair, uncertainty and poverty. Many people who (like my family) worked for or had any link with the previous government were arrested and their families subjected to maltreatment and hardships. Their properties and land were taken away and adults were forced into labour for the government.
Life became unbearable. Although only a child, I also had to become a labourer, working in rice fields and tending livestock.
In this difficult situation, faith became important. Every day I went to our local church at 4am to attend the Eucharist and, when the day was over, I went to church again to pray the rosary with the community at 6pm. The community worship times kept us together as a people of faith and gave us hope that life would be better one day.
While most of my siblings and friends dropped out of the very basic school system, I managed to finish high school thanks to my parents’ encouragement and support. However, because of my family’s background, I did not “qualify” for tertiary education.
At the age of 18, I did not see any light for my future. My father did not give up hope for me but always encouraged me by saying that God would one day show me a way. After a year of working as a farmer, that “one day” came when the Brothers of Saint Joseph in Nha Trang opened a training centre.
I didn’t learn any new skills there, because the government closed it down soon after opening, but I met some of the Brothers and grew interested in becoming a missionary. I applied to join them but had to remain underground during my five years of formation. I professed my vows in 1994 and was assigned to work in a rural area, teaching the faith to thousands of children.
In 1998, I was sent to Australia for further theology training. Here in Australia I have enjoyed a life of freedom and opportunities for which I give thanks to God. After eight months learning English I started my academic pursuits and have now graduated with three Master’s degrees, a Bachelor of Theology and, last year, a PhD in religious studies at Monash University. I was ordained a priest in the Divine Word Missionaries in 2004.
I surely could not be who I am today if I did not have faith in God and hope for a better day, and more importantly, if my parents did not have faith in God and hope in me.
Father Thien Nguyen is the director of the Janssen Spirituality Centre specialising in Comparative Theology of Religions.
Faith Conversations at Miller’s Homestead
As part of Cultural Diversity Week 2022, Knox Council and the Eastern Regional Libraries partnered on a program of events. Knox Interfaith Network (KIN) was invited to stage an activity at Miller’s Homestead in Boronia.
A number of interested people joined faith representatives – in a 'round robin' format – to participate in small group conversations with Q&A about the Hindu and Baha’i religions, as well as a local Progressive Christian community, under the theme of “Learn, Discuss and Appreciate”.
Knox City Council's annual Carols by Candlelight was a virtual event this year consisting of a series of pre-recorded video presentations. This is the presentation given by Mark Herrmann, President of the Knox Interfaith Network, for the event.
Our TOURS TO PLACES OF WORSHIP have been postponed due to the Victorian government's COVID lock-down restrictions. Further tours will be scheduled once restrictions are eased in the future.
The Knox Interfaith Network held a public forum on Faith Perspectives on Death and Dying at the Knox Council offices on Tuesday 10th September. Sponsorship was also provided through grant funding from the Victorian Multicultural Commission.
Introductory presentations were given by Nora Fernandes, Community Engagement and Capacity Building Manager at Palliative Care Victoria and Maureen McConnell, Networker for the Community Houses Association of the Outer Eastern Suburbs. For the remainder of the evening, attendees moved from table to table for interactive discussions in a faith “speed dating” format. At the four tables, various faith perspectives were discussed - Muslim (represented by ISOMER), Hindu (represented by Sri Vakranthunda Vinayagar temple), Buddhist (represented by the Pure Land Learning Centre and Christian (represented by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Shameela Essop. President of Knox Interfaith Network, said, “The death of a loved one is always distressful, but having the support of family, friends and the community makes a huge difference, particularly when they are understanding and respectful of your faith and traditions."
Upcoming event: Faith Perspectives on Death & Dying with speed dating Q&A format. Tuesday 10th Sep 6-8.30pm
This tour visited the Wantirna Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple in Boronia and concluded with a visit to the St Mina & St Marina Coptic Orthodox Church in Hallam where Mark Herrman from the Knox Interfaith Network presented Father Abanoub with a framed Golden Rule poster in appreciation of his community providing the bus and driver (Raouf) for the majority of our tours.
With thanks to the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Knox City Council, we have now exhausted the grant funding for our interfaith tour program. The Network is likely to pursue further funding, but for the time being there will be no tours conducted. We appreciate the generosity of all the places of worship visited over the past 2½ years, as well as the many tour participants we have tried to educate about other faiths, beliefs and traditions in our rich multicultural community.
April's interfaith tour visited the Sant Nirankari Mission in Rowville, kindly hosted by Rev Sukhdev Singh Ji who is in charge of North India Sant Nirankari Mission. We had a veritable feast, which was amazing, but threw our timings for the afternoon out the window!
The Sant Nirankari Mission ideology is to know God, with a God realisation leading to self-realisation. God is in everyone and we are all one. Oneness: heal, enrich, empower.
Our prayers are with all victims of the tragic attacks on Christian worshippers and hotel guests in Colombo, Sri Lanka, including family, friends and community, as well as those injured and traumatised.
The events on Easter Sunday have again shocked us and we condemn all forms of religious and racial violence. The senseless killing of innocent people confounds us, yet strengthens our resolve to better encourage understanding, social cohesion and friendship in religious and multicultural spheres. The Knox Interfaith Network continues to serve to learn, discuss and appreciate the various faiths in our community.
Our interfaith tour in February 2019 was able to visit and be generously hosted by the Islamic Society of Melbourne Eastern Region (ISOMER), the Sri Vakrathunda Vinayagar Hindu Temple and the Janssen Spirituality Centre.