Priest sees hopeful future for Vietnam’s Christians

.- An official with the Vietnamese bishops’ conference foresees a confident future for the Christian community in Vietnam. He cites the “flourishing” of priestly vocations and the government’s “signs of openness.”

“Hope for the new generations of Vietnamese youth is faith in Christ: the young people who look to a market economy, consumerism, the civilization of looking for new answers for their thirst for truth and new ways of life,” Fr. Joseph Do Manh Hung said.

The priest and theologian is vice-rector of the major seminary in Ho Chi Minh City and secretary of the Vietnam bishops’ Commission for the Clergy. He told Fides news agency his evaluation of the state of the Catholic Church in the country.

Young people are “the driving force” for the Church’s mission in society, he said. Almost all of the country’s 80,000 catechists are young people.

Young people are the majority of the seven million Catholics in Vietnam, whose overall population numbers 87 million..

“Of course, young people in Vietnam live surrounded by social problems like unemployment and life which, for families, remains difficult because of poverty. But the proclamation of the Gospel to young people is a great challenge that requires a lot of perseverance.”

With over 1,500 seminarians, the abundance of vocations is “a boost of confidence for us,” he added.

“Faith is strengthened, but at the same time, there is the challenge represented by the opening of a market economy, consumerism, by the civilization of image. This challenge mainly affects young people, including seminarians and future priests who need adequate formation,” the priest said.

Fr. Hung said that there is now a “gradual opening” of the government towards the Christian faith and the Catholic Church. After 1975, the entire country was under communist rule and seminaries were closed down. The seminaries reopened in 1986, though under significant restrictions governing the years in which new seminarians could be admitted.

Those restrictions were lifted in 2008, but local government authorities must still receive a list of candidates and authorize it.

“Nevertheless, we can say that there has been a marked improvement since 1986, and today we see the fruits,” he said.

The difficulties that the Church experiences are overcome through “constructive dialogue.” The problems mainly concern issues regarding church personnel or property and land confiscated from the Church.

Property disputes have turned violent in recent years. Just under two weeks ago on Nov. 3, a mob led by government officials attacked a convent and church. About 100 people, accompanied by security officials and members of the press, damaged a gate and verbally abused and physically assaulted several Redemptorist priests and lay people at Thai Ha Church in Hanoi.

Local state-run media said the attackers were locals angry at parish opposition to a government-run sewage treatment project close to the Dong Da hospital, UCA News reports.

Fr. Hong told Fides that in 2009 at the God’s People’s Assembly marking the fiftieth anniversary of Vietnam’s Catholic hierarchy, participants agreed that despite the difficulties they face, Catholics want to be “in service to society” by participating actively in the nation’s development.

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