More than 3,000 Catholics filed into Sandman Centre Thursday to experience a historic event Thursday — the first ordination of a bishop within the Diocese of Kamloops.
The Most Rev. Joseph Phuong Nguyen was installed as the sixth bishop of the diocese, succeeding retiring Bishop David Monroe.
Worshippers came from across B.C., Alberta and Washington State as well as from Nguyen’s country of origin, Vietnam.
Bishop Nguyen, 59, formerly served the church as moderator of the curia in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
“Today is the first time in the history of the Diocese of Kamloops that we are celebrating an episcopal ordination,” said Rev. Dale Normandeau as the ceremony got underway. He acknowledged Nguyen’s extended family, many of whom travelled considerable distances for the event.
“A lot of them have come from Vietnam for this festive occasion.”
“He has proven himself to be a man of dedication and service,” said Most Rev. Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg, at Thursday’s ceremony. Miller served with Nguyen at St. Jude’s Parish in Vancouver, where he came to know his fellow cleric as one with heart and humour.
“He will drive distances he has never driven before over the 120,000 (square) kilometres of this diocese, a little large than the Vancouver Diocese,” Gagnon said.
Bishop Nguyen was born the eldest in a family of 10 and entered the seminary at age 11, studying philosophy and theology to become a priest. He was to be ordained in Vietnam before the communist government took over all Catholic hospitals, schools and seminaries.
As a young man, he was imprisoned for practicing his faith and later joined the many thousands of refugees — the so-called boat people — who fled for their lives and freedom in the late 1970s. It was a journey cut short by a storm that forced them back to shore, and Nguyen was imprisoned and tortured. His second attempt to escape was successful.
Nguyen was ordained as a priest in Vancouver in 1992.
Monroe served as bishop for the last 14 years and retires at age 75.