Vietnam Prelate Dies a Witness of Persecution

Communists Mark Life of 100-Year-Old Bishop

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LONG XUYEN, Vietnam, JUNE 11, 2009 ( Vietnamese Catholics are mourning the death of their oldest bishop, as they continue to witness the destruction of what the late prelate strove to build.

Bishop Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu died Wednesday, less than a month after celebrating his 100th birthday. He served as a priest for 75 years, having been ordained in France in 1934.

Among the buildings that the late bishop built, all except the cathedral have been seized by the Communist government. Vietnamese Catholics continue in an ongoing battle with the government over properties that have been confiscated and buildings that have been demolished.

The most recent to be taken was the monastery of the Congregation of the Brothers of The Holy Family of Banam in Long Xuyen, which was demolished last week.

Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu was born in northern Vietnam in 1909. 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.

In 1954, after the Communist takeover of the north and subsequent persecution of the Church, he led his parishioners southward and settled with them in Long Xuyen province, south of Saigon.

The region was established as a diocese in 1960 and he was named the first prelate. At that time, it had 20,000 Catholics; today it has 240,000 in 108 parishes and 45 sub-parishes, served by 240 priests.

Though Bishop Michael Nguyen ordained a coadjutor on the same day of the Communist takeover of the South — April 30, 1975 — he did not retire officially until 1997.

Talking about the late prelate, the diocese’s current bishop, Joseph Tran Xuan Tieu, recalled how simply he had lived «in a 20-square-meter room with an old bed and without a television or personal computer.»

Bishop Joseph Tran, 63, 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, washed his own clothes and cleaned his own room, and made toothpicks for the people in the bishop’s house.»

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