Right, The Straits Times, Nov 30

WHEN CONVICTED AUSTRALIAN drug trafficker, Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, goes to the gallows at 6am on Dec 2, he would do so with the faith he embraced while on death row.

On Aug 17, 2004, Nguyen embraced the Lord and received the Sacrament of Baptism. He was baptised by Father Gregory Van Giang, mep, who has been providing spiritual support to Nguyen since his imprisonment.

Nguyen chose Caleb for his baptism name, after the Old Testament figure known for his zeal and faith (Numbers 13; 1 Mac 2:5-6).

Prayers have been asked for Nguyen and his family, especially his mother, Kim, who came down to Singapore with his twin brother, Khoa. She has requested to hold and hug Van Nguyen before he is led to the gallows.

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SINGAPORE - Two popes have tried and failed in their separate appeals to the President of Singapore for clemency for convicted drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van. Melbourne's The Age newspaper reported in its Nov 19 issue. Nguyen, a 25-year-old Australian, is scheduled to hang here on Fri Dec 2, for carrying 396 grams of heroin at Changi Airport while in transit from Cambodia to Australia.

Before his death earlier this year, Pope John Paul II requested clemency for Nguyen. This request was rejected. The present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, similarly wrote to President S. R. Nathan earlier this month.

The letter revealing this was sent to Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, who had formally requested the Vatican to intervene to save the condemned Melbourne salesman, who was baptised as a Catholic on death row last year.

The letter, sent by the Secretariat of State, the office responsible for the Holy See's relations with states, said, "the Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore presented two requests for clemency, one on Feb 28, 2005, and the second on Nov 1, 2005, respectively in the names of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI."

"In the first case, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore, on Mar 2, 2005, assured that the request for clemency was transmitted to the office of the President," it said. "The authorities of Singapore have not yet given any response to the second request."

Besides the two popes and political leaders such as Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Nguyen's friends and local anti-death penalty activists also tried to appeal for clemency for him. Nguyen had consistently said he had agreed to smuggle the heroin to repay debts owed by his twin brother, Khoa.

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Kelly Ng, 25, and Bronwyn Lew, 23, both close friends of Nguyen, launched the Reach Out Campaign for Nguyen, whose symbol was the tracing of a hand. This image was taken from Nguyen's own hand, which he pressed against the glass barrier that separated him from his family and friends who flew from Melbourne to visit him at Changi.

On one visit, The Australian newspaper reported, Nguyen held his hand to the prison glass and told his mother, "Mum, hold my hand."

His mother, Kim Nguyen, pressing her hand to her son's on the glass and unable to comfort him physically, told him, "I'll hold you forever."

Thousands of hand outlines and accompanying messages of support have been collected from Australia and all over the world.

Hand tracings from Singapore were collected during an anti-death penalty forum on Nov 7 at Hotel Asia.

Organised by a group of locals opposed to the death penalty, the speakers at the forum were social commentator Alex Au, politician Chee Soon Juan, lawyers M. Ravi and J.B. Jeyaretnam, De La Salle Brother Michael Broughton and counsellor Anthony Yeo.

Alex Au, for example, provided statistics to show that there was no evidence that hanging drug peddlers reduced the amount of illegal drug consumption in a country.

Brother Michael told the audience that the Catholic faith has made its stand, which is, that it cannot support capital punishment.

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, states "the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude … recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor."

However, the late Pope John Paul II, in his Evangelium Vitae, said in 1995, "the nature and extent of the punishment … ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: In other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organisation of the penal system, such cases are very rare if not practically non-existent."

Pope John Paul II in February 2003 called recourse to the death penalty "unnecessary".

The present Holy Father, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had played a lead role in developing the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

At a Dec 9, 1992 Vatican press conference heralding the publication of the book, he said it clearly showed that the church was moving away from its traditional acceptance of the state's right to employ the death penalty.

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