Service to Be Held for Australian Catholic Hanged in Singapore

A funeral service in Melbourne on Wednesday will celebrate the short life of a convicted Australian drug smuggler who was executed in Singapore last Friday.

The requiem mass for 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, conducted partly in English and in Vietnamese, will begin at 11 a.m. (AEDT) at St Patrick's Catholic cathedral, in East Melbourne.

According to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), some of the last words penned by Nguyen in his cell at Singapore's Changi prison are expected to be read to the congregation.

On Saturday, Nguyen’s body was flown from Singapore to the southern Australian city of Melbourne, a day after he was hanged despite numerous appeals for clemency from Australian leaders and his lawyers. He received a mandatory death sentence after being caught with 14 ounces of heroin at Singapore's airport in 2002 and convicted of drug smuggling. Nguyen had said it was his first attempt to smuggle drugs, a desperate move driven by his twin brother Khoa's legal debts.

Nguyen’s lawyer, Lex Lasry of Australia, said the campaign against the death penalty by advocates for Nguyen would not stop with the execution. Singapore has said its tough penalties for drug trafficking are an effective deterrent against a crime that ruins lives, and that foreigners and Singaporeans must be treated alike.

At a human-rights forum in Singapore on Saturday, opposition lawmaker Steve Chia said there was little objection to the death penalty in Singapore.

"Most Singaporeans are too caught up with making a decent living to care less about one convicted trafficker less in our society," said Chia, according to the Associated Press (AP). Chia had previously called for a review of Singapore's penal code, including the mandatory death penalty imposed on Nguyen.

The Rev. Fr. Peter Hansen, who will conduct Wednesday’s church service, said the family had requested it be a celebration of Nguyen's life and not be turned into a political statement about the death sentence.

Prior to his death, Nguyen had finalized the service details, including the choice of the songs Ave Maria and Amazing Grace, with Fr. Hansen just days before he was sent to the gallows.

Last year Nguyen was baptized a Roman Catholic as he waited on death row. According to reports, Nguyen spent many hours with the Catholic prison chaplain as his newfound faith deepened.

Nguyen himself wrote of the transformation of his life inside prison after he embraced Christianity.

"Recognizing and understanding my offence, the ramifications and subsequent repercussions as a result of my callousness has been crucial, essentially the turning point for my remorseful transformation; an opportunity of self-discovery made possible upon my conception of God and Jesus Christ into my life," Nguyen wrote in an appeal for clemency to the Singapore government.

Nguyen was a young man who erred, rather than a hardened criminal committed to a life of crime, said former prison chaplain Father Peter Norden. After he was caught he admitted his crime and took responsibility.

"We all make mistakes along the way. Some are caught, some are not,” he said.

A multi-faith service for Nguyen, held last month at St Patrick's Catholic cathedral, attracted more than 1,000 people.

Organizers of Wednesday’s service expect a much larger crowd, but said the cathedral was big enough to support more people.