Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Msgr Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu died yesterday. He was the oldest of the Vietnamese bishops: less than a month ago on March 14th he had celebrated his 100th birthday. On that day, in the Cathedral of “his diocese” of Long Xuyen, Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, together with 21 archbishops and bishops from across the country, 260 priests, 140 religious and over 1000 faithful gathered to also mark his 75 years of priestly mission and his 50 years as bishop.
His was a life entirely dedicated to the Church and his nation, with which he lived through important moments in history, great difficulties and numerous obstacles. Born in 1909 in the northern diocese of Thai Binh, in 1922 he entered the minor seminary of Lang Son. Following a period of study in France, he was ordained a priest in 1934. On returning to his homeland, he lent his service to the minor seminary, two parishes and as secretary to the apostolic delegation, at the time based in Hue.
In 1954, when the communist regime took power in Northern Vietnam and the churches activities heavily curtailed, foreign missionaries expelled and some priests assassinated he decided to guide the people of his parish. They established themselves in Long Xuyen, where the Cathedral to the Queen of Peace was built, two minor seminaries, one major seminary, and centres for formation, parishes and churches. In November 1960 the diocese of Long Xuyen was erected and Msgr. Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu named as its first bishop.
Church statistics tell us that at the time of its creation there were more or less 20 thousand Catholics in the diocese divided into 12 parishes. Today there are over 240 thousand, with 108 parishes and 45 sub parishes, and 240 priests.
On April 30 1775, they day the communist government unified the nation, Msgr. Michael Nguyen ordained Msgr. Jean Baptiste Bui Tuan coadjutor bishop. He remained at pastoral head of the diocese until 1997. His successor, Msgr. Jean Baptiste Bui Tuan, remained there until 2003; he in turn was succeeded by Msgr. Joseph Tran Xuan Tieu. Therefore until yesterday the diocese boasted “three generations” of bishops.
Of the late bishop, his current successor said that he was a “shining example of devotion”: he prayed every day and celebrated mass every day, even when he was very ill: “He lived in a 20-square-meter room with an old bed and without a television or personal computer”. He read books and newspapers daily, washed his clothes and cleaned his room himself.
Msgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, archbishop of Hanoi, and former student of Msgr. Michel Nguyen recalled the bishop’s love for priests: “He saved money and sent it to elderly priests or those who work in remote areas”. Msgr. Kiet also praised the late bishop for building so many educational centres for the diocese. The three seminaries that Bishop Michael Nguyen founded trained hundreds of seminarians before being taken by the government after 1975. The same fate awaited the educational centres that he gave life to. Of the many works Msgr. Michael Nguyen Khac Ngu realised only the Cathedral still belongs to the Church.
The bishop had committed himself to drawing the local Church's attention to the education of youth and priests. Thanks to him, the diocese has revived after Communist persecution.