Recently I paid a second visit to Vietnam for a week. I went not as a tourist, but for the same reason I travelled there some nine years ago. I was thereto choose a few young men to come to Australia to train for the priesthood for our diocese.

Vietnamese people who have come to our country in recent times, like people from other countries, have shown themselves to be people of faith, enterprising and adaptable. Their children have become a part of Australian life and done well.

The Vietnamese Priests that I know in Perth, some of whom I have had a lot to do with as a Vocations Director, have also done well. They have offered so much to our Australian Church. They have shown themselves to be men of Faith, adaptable and good Pastors.  A tribute to the contribution of the Vietnamese priests and people is the fact that Australia now has its first Vietnamese Bishop. Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM was ordained on 23rd June 2011 as Auxiliary Bishop for Melbourne.

When I went to Vietnam last time the Government in Vietnam restricted the number of priests for ordination. While they have relaxed their approach quite a lot now, the Bishops and Religious Orders have a greater freedom to train and ordain the candidates they want, there are still candidates who would not be able to follow a call they sense within them to priesthood. In going there I don€™t have a sense of €œpoaching€ Vocations. Indeed the Bishops I met and the large Seminary I visited (with some 300 Seminarians in training for 4 dioceses) were all very missionary minded. They too were offering help.


While the Catholics in Vietnam are part of a minority '€“ some 8 or 9 million I understand '€“ their practice of the faith is very strong. My short visit there was a tonic to my own faith.

It is a '€˜Grace'€™ that Vietnamese Catholics are free to practice their faith. The churches I saw were prominent and packed for their weekend Masses. The celebrations were lively with song and good participation. As in Australia the Vietnamese people are well organised and have a variety of groups, especially for the young children and youth.

Fr Vinh Dong prepared the way so well for me. With his contacts among Priests and Religious Leaders he had lined up 26 young men for me to interview. He had planned the week and all the contacts. He then patiently translated in those many interviews. Some of the lads had English, however on the serious issues of life, vocation, prayer as well as cross cultural and missionary issues a translator was a must.

While I only chose three (and it was not an easy choice) I was really inspired by the quality of the young men I spoke with. They were gifted and talented. Some were still at university while others were working.  They certainly displayed a deep Faith.

What I witnessed in the people was an appreciation of priestly and religious vocations in their Church. These young men valued the priesthood. It was quite refreshing that ordinary down to earth lads saw priesthood not only as something worthwhile but also a Calling.

I feel sad and I know that many faith filled people here in our diocese and in Australia feel sad about the fall away from the practice of our Faith. This sadness is not so much for the sake of the Church itself, but for the safe of the people who lack much of what Jesus offers for their lives, families and our society.

With the fall off in practice comes an inevitable fall off in local Vocations to priestly and religious life.  While there are many ramifications, reflections and consequences of all this, one important thing I realise more and more, for us here in Australia, is that we need to deepen our own faith.

It is time to '€œdig in'€ as they used to say in Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields when things were tough. We have the same Catholic faith as the Vietnamese and other countries of the world. We express and live this faith in different ways. We in Australia, I believe, are called to grow more deeply in ours at this time. We need also to grow in hope as well and to trust Jesus, whose body we are in the Church.

Some of you may have heard how we the Bishops of Australia are planning a special Year of Grace. This will take place from Pentecost 2012 to Pentecost 2013.  It will be a time to focus on Jesus and our relationship with him. At a Bishops Conference last year when we we looked at all the issues of the Church in Australia and in the lives of our people, we decided to begin here '€“ centering on Christ.

This year will not be a year filled with programmes. It will be a year to grow in Faith. I am sure this will then touch into hope and certainly overflow into action as we work at the many issues of our society and Church in Australia.

I ask all of you to please prepare even now by opening our hearts to this Year of Grace and praying for its success.  Please also pray regularly for the three young men that I chose '€“ Tam, Phuc and Tuan as they prepare to come to Australia and face the long journey of some 8 years of training and discernment for priesthood for our diocese.