Deacon Don Nguyen.

Deacon Don Nguyen. Photo: Jay Cronan

He came to Australia as a refugee and recently Don Nguyen was ordained the seventh permanent deacon for the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Mindful of his background, he would love to have involvement with refugees, but he urges caution.

''Refugees are of concern for the church and everyone,'' he said. ''But we have to deal with whether they are genuine refugees.''

The situation was now very complex. ''In my time, identifying refugees was easier. I think a lot of people are playing games these days.''

People claiming to be refugees could be terrorists or being used by communist regimes to expand their empires. ''We don't want to lose our freedom helping these people.''

But people in refugee camps, as opposed to those who could afford to pay to get to Australia, were very disadvantaged and had no protection.

''I would love to have involvement with refugees. I have experienced how the refugee feels.''

He was born in Vietnam in 1959 and came to Australia on October 21, 1981. The date is obviously significant to him. ''It is something I cannot forget.''

In Vietnam he was a swimming instructor. His wife, Jennifer, was a gymnastics instructor. They married two years after moving to Australia.

''We escaped together from Vietnam.''

This was in a small boat during a two-week hazardous voyage to Malaysia. ''We consider we were one of the lucky people. We experienced a lot of storm. There was a moment when we thought the boat would be sunk. Somehow we survived.''

They spent three months in a refugee camp before being accepted by Australia as refugees.

His mother was a Christian and his father a Buddhist. His father, brother and sister were killed in 1968 when the communists invaded from the north. On arrival in Australia with limited English he worked as a kitchen hand in Sydney.

Later, while working as a mail sorter with Australia Post, he studied electrical engineering and computing at Wollongong University. The combined pressure of work, study and the arrival of their first child meant he did not complete the degree. In 1990 he joined the then Department of Social Security and about 10 years ago he moved to Canberra as part of a restructure of the department for which he worked.

He said he was an ordinary Christian with a Vietnamese community until invited to attend a Cursillo weekend. Cursillo is a Christian renewal movement established in Spain in 1944.

With Kairos Ministry he visited inmates at Long Bay Jail.

He said his ordination as a deacon gave him more opportunities to serve the Church. He is not sure where it might lead. ''I just open myself to God and enter the unknown.''

As a deacon he can perform most priestly roles but not the sacraments of Eucharist, confession or anointing of the sick.

''I hope to be available when people need my service.''