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From pews to planes to pursue God’s call to service

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Fr Toan Nguyen’s passport may soon be running out of pages, thanks to his work for God.

The parish priest at St Brendan’s Catholic Church in Bankstown recently returned from his missionary trip to Vietnam, where he helps disabled orphans from the province of Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu.

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He makes the trip annually (and sometimes more frequently through the year) as part of his Lenten penance.

The trip also reminds him of his priestly promises.

“When I became a priest 30 years ago the motto on my card was, ‘To the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak’ (1 Cor 9:22),” Fr Toan said.

“Some of these kids are so helpless and rely on every form of assistance. They break your heart. Some just lie on the floor, not even a bed, and they have nothing.”

While some might opt for a holiday overseas, Fr Toan has found the greatest happiness in his travelling ministry.

“We shouldn’t only talk about faith, we have to practice the faith. I don’t want only to preach the word of God. I do the word of God, in my actions,” he said.

“St Paul said your deeds must match your words; they must go hand in hand. I think it’s much easier for me to preach to my congregation about love for others and to care for the marginalised, but where’s the evidence?

“It’s easy to say, but we need to show it. That motivates me. I just do it.

“Vietnam is still under a Communist regime, so orphanages do not receive any help. They rely on donations from people in the country or outside.”

A moving story about a Vietnamese orphan in the late 2000s inspired Fr Toan to begin his own ministry helping the helpless.

“It was about Philipp Rösler, a Vietnamese orphan who had lost both his parents after the war in 1975. He was adopted by a Roman Catholic couple in Germany, where he would eventually grow up and become the federal health minister there,” Fr Toan said.

“When I heard the story I wondered more about these orphans. I thought if I tried to help them in my limited capacity, maybe one or more of them could be like that and have a chance at a future they would be proud of.”

Fr Toan has since made trips for more than 15 years to different Catholic orphanages run by diocesan nuns and helps to deliver monetary and food aid over two weeks.

It’s a story he has not only shared with The Catholic Weekly and his Vietnamese-heavy congregation, but also the primary school students across the road from the parish, which he hopes will inspire them also.

“Over there, the kids cannot eat like us, cannot feed themselves or even have the same luxuries that we might,” Fr Toan said.

“I tell them they are so lucky. These other children might not have a future, but we have to do what we can to try and make it a possibility for them.

“Remember that being someone’s neighbour is not a physical place, it’s when you are thinking about and helping other people.

“You don’t seek fame or glory or anything, you just do it. I firmly believe the works of God are in these things.”

Fr Toan will travel again to Vietnam in June to help deliver a cool room for the orphanage to help store frozen food.

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