Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was born on April 17, 1928 in the central part of Vietnam, in Phu Cam parish, a suburb of Hue. He was the eldest of 8 children: Thuan, Niem, Tuyen, Ham Tieu, Thanh, Anh Tuyet, Thuy Tien, and Thu Hong. His father, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Ấm, passed away on July 1, 1993 in Sydney, Australia. His Mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Ngô Đình Thị Hiệp, daughter of the late Mr. Ngô Đình Khả, is now 100 years old. She currently resides in Sydney, Australia with her daughter, Anne Ham Tieu.
Thuan was born into a family with a long Catholic tradition, his relatives were among the martyrs since 1698.
He adopted the motto not only because there was always joy and hope in his heart no matter what happened to him, but also because he wanted to make a statement: He saw the teachings of Vatican II as showing the Church in its progress towards the ultimate Unity, that was why there was joy and hope for all human kind.
His coat of arms showed a blue background and a white star for the Virgin Mary, Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). Set against the blue under the star were three mountains representing aqua et arida, the sea and the land. The three mountains represent the three regions of Vietnam: North, Central, and South Vietnam. The three mountains and the sea represented Nha Trang as well as Vietnam, sitting on the Pacific Ocean. In ancient times aqua et arida meant the entire world, and thus the words symbolized that Vietnam is not an isolated country but is part of the world.