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Called south . . . Vietnamese priest Huynh Tran has joined the Holy Family Parish in Timaru. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

Timaru’s newest Catholic priest is a long way from home but enjoying life in South Canterbury.

Vietnamese priest Huynh Tran said he was enjoying the ease of getting around town, getting to know people and visiting his favourite spot – Caroline Bay.

“People are very friendly.”

He first moved to New Zealand nine years ago to train as a priest at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland.

He was inspired to become a priest while still at school, as he was the only Catholic in his school, beside his siblings, Fr Tran said.

He had felt sorry for his friends who did not share his faith, and so felt inspired to train in order to share his beliefs, he said.

“God is great . . . full of love and mercy.”

Despite the lack of Catholics at his school, he had been unable to enter the priesthood in Vietnam as applicants far exceeded seminary places, he said.

“Lots of people want to become priests in Vietnam.”

He was contacted by a priest in New Zealand, who suggested he come and study in Auckland instead – so with little knowledge of the country, he packed his bags and moved here in 2008.

However, the seasonal differences were a shock as he moved to Auckland in the middle of winter.

“I didn’t have any warm jackets.”

The assistant priest role at Holy Family was his first job since being ordained as a priest in July this year, and he was now focusing on getting to know the area and his parishioners.

On his days off, he enjoyed taking photos, tramping, fishing and fixing things.

Fr Brian Fennessy, the main parish priest, had been very welcoming and was a good mentor, he said.

“I still have to learn a lot as a new priest.”

Between his ordination and taking the Timaru job, Fr Tran had gone back to Vietnam for two months to visit family and friends – the first time he had returned to his home country in four years.

His family, who all had a strong Catholic faith, were very proud of him in his new role, he said.

“To become a God servant is a great idea.”