Former asylum seeker and refugee, Vietnamese-born Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM has called on all Australians to show the same kind of generosity shown to him and his family when they were forced to flee their homeland after the fall of Saigon and the Communist take-over.
The then 21-year old, his parents and a brother and sister managed to escape Vietnam by boat and a year later, in December 1981 finally arrived in Australia.
In 1983, he became a Conventual Franciscan friar and began his studies for the priesthood in Melbourne the following year. Although he has spent most of his life since he fled Vietnam in Melbourne, Bishop Long is well known to many here in Sydney after spending four years from 1995 as parish priest at Kellyville.
In 2011 he made history becoming Australia’s first Vietnamese-born prelate.
An Auxiliary Bishop with the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Bishop Long as he is popularly known, is also the Australian Catholic Bishops’ delegate for Migrants and Refugees.
Able to speak first-hand about the migrant and refugee experience, Bishop Long says the difficulties and hardships faced by migrants in our communities are frequently overlooked.
“Simple things which many of us either growing up or living in Australia for a long time often forget or simply don’t notice can be a challenge for new migrants,” he says and cites unfamiliarity with language, culture and customs as some of the hurdles migrants face, and which can trigger anxiety and stress as they struggle to cope with their new lives in a new land.
Last night ahead of the 101st World Migrant and Refugee Day on Sunday 30 August, Bishop Long released the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office’s (ACMRO) Pastoral Resource Kit for parishes and dioceses across Australia.
The Catholic Church of Australia has dedicated the month of August to raising awareness about Australia’s migrant population and has joined Bishop Long in his call for Australians to remember the difficulties faced by the many migrants who are beginning new lives in Australia.
“It is precisely in everyday situations that Christ is calling for us to move beyond ourselves and express solidarity to our fellow brothers and sisters,” Bishop Long says and suggests that lending a helping hand, or simply just saying hello or offering a smile can help a migrant feel less lost and less alone.
“Whilst the plight of refugees is often present and visible on our television screens, let us not forget the difficulties faced by the many migrants living here in Australia,” he says, and urges the Church and her various agencies to avoid offering charitable services alone, and to help promote real integration of migrants into our communities and into society.
“Migrants and refugees need our special attention and care as they are our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Long says.
Mother to all
The theme for the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees chosen by Pope Francis, is: “the Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity.”
“The Holy Father wishes us to go beyond ourselves to live an authentic Christian life and show solidarity and compassion to those at the furthest fringes of society,” Bishop Long says, adding that Pope Francis has identified migrants and refugees to be in need of our special attention and care.
With ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, the UNHCR estimates there are now more than 2 million refugees in the region with more than 7 million displaced internally in war nations such as Syria and Iraq.
An increase in conflict in this region together with ongoing conflicts in Sudan and the struggles of oppressed minority’s such as Burma’s Rohingyas who have few rights and are increasingly in danger of persecution and torture, will inevitably result in an increase of those seeking safety and asylum in Australia, he says.
Bishop Long also cautions against fear and suspicion of newcomers seeking shelter, and urges all of us, including politicians, not to permit fear of the unknown to guide our decision making.
He also cautions against suspicion and distrust of people from different cultures, faiths and customs and encourages local and parish communities across Australia to welcome migrants and refugees with open hearts and minds.
“Many of us may never change the world but let us not forget that we can change the world around us,” he says.
Included in ACMRO’s Pastoral Resource Kit for the 101st World Migrant and Refugee Sunday on 30 August is the life story of Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini who dedicated his life to the service of migrants in Europe and the Americas. Defined by Pope St John Paul II as “the Father of Migrants and Refugees,” Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini identified the unique pastoral care necessary for migrant communities and the difficulties and realities they faced when struggling to settle into their new homeland.
“I would encourage all those reading his story in particular my brother Bishops, fellow priests, Religious Sisters and Brothers and all who offer pastoral care to migrants and refugees to read about his life and mission, and to encourage his devotion, and pray through his intercession in their dioceses and parishes,” Bishop Long says.
The kit also contains a detailed timeline of Australia’s migration policies and to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of ACMRO, an important insight into two decades of teaching on migrant and refugee issues by the Universal Church and the Catholic Church of Australia.
ACMRO’s Pastoral Resource Kit commemorating World Migrant and Refugee Day on 30 August is available for download from https://www.catholic.org.au/migrant-and-refugee/home