Just imagine. You’re facing religious persecution and there is only one way out. You pile your extended family – some 26 in all – into a motorboat and shove off into the vast ocean with only meager supplies. You leave your longtime home in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam and head into the South China Sea in hopes of making it to the Philippines, to safety and to a place where you are free to practice your Catholic faith. By plane it would take more than 6 hours to reach Manila. Google Maps doesn’t offer an estimate for traveling by a 28-foot motorboat. Especially when the motor fails.
Bishop-elect Thanh Thai Nguyen, the Diocese of Orange’s new auxiliary bishop, knows it takes 18 days. He was on that boat. For more than two weeks his family was tossed about in the sea, they endured tropical storms, and went days without food and water. They prayed the rosary morning and night. Finally, when they thought all was lost, they saw land in the distance. They had made it to the Philippines and were now refugees. After 10 months in a refugee camp they were able to travel to the United States–Beaumont, Texas, to be exact. And life began again.
Hearing Bishop-elect Nguyen’s story from nearly 40 years ago, a story so many others from our Vietnamese community share, puts today’s migrant crisis in a new light. It’s often difficult to understand and empathize with so many who are today fleeing persecution, when the crisis is an ocean away. But to hear Bishop-elect Nguyen’s story–his first-hand account of risking one’s life to be free–brings it closer to home.
The Diocese of Orange, and in particular the Vietnamese community within the diocese, welcome Bishop-elect Nguyen. His story, his faith and his example are inspiration for us all.
Editor’s Note: The Episcopal Ordination Mass for Bishop-elect Nguyen is scheduled for Dec. 19 at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove.