In 1979, Bishop-elect Nguyen Thai Thanh (left) fled Vietnam with 26 members of his extended family via boat to the Philippines. (Photo left courtesy of Orange Diocese, photo right by AFP)
Pope Francis named Vietnamese-American Father Nguyen Thai Thanh, who escaped religious persecution in his home country by boat, as auxiliary bishop for Orange Diocese in the U.S. on Oct. 6. Bishop-elect Thanh will support Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange and Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer in serving the spiritual needs of the diocese’s 1.3 million Catholics, including 100,000 of Vietnamese descent. Prior to his new appointment, Father Thanh served at St. Joseph Parish of St. Augustine Diocese in Florida. Bishop-elect Thanh was born in 1953 in Nha Trang City, south central Vietnam, and is the second oldest of eight boys and three girls. He entered St. Joseph Seminary in 1966 and studied at Da Lat University. After the country was reunified under the communist rule in 1975, he and other seminarians were forced into hard labor in rice fields to be allowed to continue their studies. In 1979 after suffering religious persecution, Bishop-elect Thanh along with 26 members of his extended family boarded a small motorboat and headed for the Philippines. They were soon engulfed by a tropical storm and spent 18 days at sea, several with no food or water before arriving safely in the Philippines. After 10 months in a refugee camp they left for the U.S. in 1980. He continued his education and was ordained a priest in 1991. The priest — who is famous for his love of music and skill in playing the guitar — joined the St. Augustine Diocese in 1999. Bishop-elect Thanh will be the diocese’s second Vietnamese auxiliary bishop. The first is Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Luong, who retired in January 2016.
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