Newly ordained priests 'go forth and become disciples of all nations'
May 26, 2015 – Most Rev. Joseph Perry, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, ordained Giang Tien Nguyen, 31, and two other men on May 23 at the Society of the Divine Word’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Techny, Ill.
Father Giang soon will leave for his first assignment in Mozambique, a country in southern Africa that he knows well. He spent three years there during his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP), a preparation for his years as a missionary priest.
Divine Word Missionaries first set foot in Mozambique in 1911. Since then, they have been responding to the needs of the communities in which they serve and seeking to spread the Gospel message to new believers. Father Giang will join 16 confreres who are working in seven locations throughout the country. Their efforts provide educational opportunities, pastoral care, medical clinics and Bible studies.
In a state of war for nearly three decades—11 years of fighting for independence and 17 years of civil war—conflict left the country in dire straits with a crumbling national infrastructure, a corrupt political system and a depleted number of professional people. For 50 years, Mozambique has ranked among the world’s most impoverished nations.
The main sources of income are fishing, mining, agriculture and natural gas. Despite the recent past, Mozambicans have hope in the future thanks to newly discovered natural resources. New reserves of natural gas and oil have led to highly anticipated economic growth and improvements in the infrastructure in the cities.
Even before going to Mozambique for CTP, Father Giang approached Africa with fascination and curiosity. He’s accustomed to adapting to new environments.
Born in Vietnam, the 8-year-old Giang left Vietnam with his siblings and mother, Phuong Chau. They moved to San Jose, Calif., to join their father, Phap Nguyen, who had emigrated earlier. The young Giang quickly became familiar with his new surroundings. He actively became involved in the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, which he called "a very important part of my life," and in high school, he was a Junior Air Force ROTC cadet.
"That experience taught me the importance of leadership and service to others, which spilled into my missionary calling," he said.
In 2001, the young Giang graduated from Oak Grove High School and in 2006 earned a bachelor’s degree from Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa.
Although transitioning into a new culture is nothing new to him, he said his time in Mozambique was eye opening. "I realized I am different—my skin color, straight hair, being from the United States," he said. "I was like a child entering a new culture, a new country, learning the language. It was humbling to go through that experience again."
Of Mozambique, Father Giang said, "My curiosity led me there. I wanted to see the other faces of God. The first day, I asked myself, ‘Am I dreaming or is it real?’"
Just as Mozambique is experiencing rebirth, Father Giang has goals for the future too. "I wish to live life with a sense of gratitude, to try to see the world differently, through a different lens, so that I can see God in the people I meet. Hopefully, my mirror, my lens, will help them see God whom we are trying to encounter in a dark world. Hopefully that encounter will be a glimpse of the light."
When he first arrived in Africa, he was struck by the poverty and lack of educational opportunities. "Foreign countries are buying the land in Mozambique," he said and elaborated, saying that the people are dependent upon the land. "They are mainly farmers, who are working on land that is owned by the government but has been occupied by their ancestors for generations. We were seeing multinational companies taking up the land."
In response, Father Giang and his ministry partners helped to educate the farmers about their rights and how to apply to the government for official use of the land.
As Mozambique changes and grows, what is Father Giang’s focus? "Without youth [actively participating in the Church], the future can be difficult," he said. "Lack of education and means are a challenge in the Church and also society. I saw the challenge in that they don’t know how to write and read. We need to train local leaders, go back to communities and spread the knowledge. It is difficult for us to grow as a Church. Divine Word Missionaries and Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters built schools and encourage children to go to school. They organize and training youth leaders, so that they learn the importance of teamwork and collaboration—crucial skills."
The other two members who were ordained to the priesthood wish to remain anonymous because of lack of religious freedom in their home country. They are assigned to the Irish/British Province and to the U.S. Western Province.