By Jesse Hogan
December 7, 2005 - 1:31PM
PDF Funeral program
Thousands turned out for the funeral in Melbourne of executed drug smuggler Nguyen Tuong Van this morning, offering tears, hugs and applause as the coffin was removed at the conclusion of the 11am Catholic requiem mass.
Kim Nguyen, stoic upon her arrival, sobbed as her son's coffin was carried out to the front steps of St Patrick's Cathedral at 12.42pm.
She held a photo of the 25-year old Nguyen as the coffin was placed in the back of a silver hearse.
The congregation clapped spontaneously as the procession moved outside.
Nguyen's twin brother Khoa — dressed entirely in white, the Vietnamese colour of mourning — was one of the pallbearers.
"Van is not a martyr, he was not a hero," the family declared.
"But he has become dear to many because within the struggles of his short and sometimes difficult life, he learned to live only for others and with a heart of love for God, and for all the people he knew," their statement in the mass booklet read.
Father Peter Hansen, honouring Nguyen's final request, asked the congregation of more than 2000 to hug each other at the communion part of the mass, instead of the customary handshakes.
People began entering St Patrick's before 9.30am for the Catholic requiem mass, with guests filling the cathedral by the time it began to the strains of Amazing Grace.
Hundreds of guests stood in the aisles once the cathedral's 2000-capacity pews were filled, while others stood outside listening to the temporary public address system.
Nguyen's lawyers Lex Lasry, QC, and Julian McMahon — both of whom visited him on death row last week — attended the service, as did Father Peter Norden, who officiated at a prayer vigil for Nguyen last week.
Nguyen's close friends Kelly Ng and Bronwyn Lew both read eulogies during the mass, as did his Singaporean friend Goldgan Ng and Mr Lasry.
Mr Lasry told the congregation that Nguyen grew spiritually during his time in jail, with his selfishness giving way to selflessness.
"Over the three years I knew Van I saw a change in him that I had never seen before," he said.
Fr Hansen, alternating between English and Vietnamese, conceded Nguyen's life was "not always virtuous", but said he was remorseful and deserved to live.
At times, he referred to Nguyen as Caleb — the name he took when baptised in Singapore's Changi Prison.
He also reaffirmed the church's opposition to the death penalty, and rebuked those who said Nguyen was "not fit" to have a funeral service at St Patrick's.
Nguyen's final journal entry, written two hours before his death, was also printed on the last page of the prayer book.
"It is now my 11th hour. My work here is done now. Pray, may I not have failed you completely and by the grace of God may you find strength and comfort in these words my heart now speaks to you my brothers and sisters," the entry read.
"Fear not, my brothers and sisters. Fear not."
Kim Nguyen thanked all the priests involved in the service before the coffin was driven away.
This was all done in silence, despite the hundreds of onlookers.
Nguyen was arrested at Changi Airport in possession of almost 400 grams of heroin in December 2002.
He was hanged in Singapore on Friday after extensive appeals for clemency were rejected. His body was flown back to Australia on Saturday.
Nguyen will be buried in a private ceremony.