U.S. bishops concelebrate Mass on Tet during Vietnamese visit
The U.S. and Vietnamese bishops in Hue
The U.S. and Vietnamese bishops in Hue

.- A joint group of U.S. and Vietnamese clergy concelebrated Mass for Tet, the first day of the Lunar New Year in the Archdiocese of Hue in central Vietnam on Monday. The occasion marks the first time in decades that Catholics from the archdiocese could join foreign clergy in the celebration.

Archbishop of Hue Stephen Nguyen Nhu The and hundreds of Vietnamese priests concelebrated the Monday evening Mass with the U.S. delegation, Fr. J.B. An Dang tells CNA. Tens of thousands filled Phu Cam cathedral in Hue for the Mass.

The U.S. delegation was led by Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer and included Bishops Todd Brown of Orange, Dan Walsh of Santa Rosa, and Ignatius Chung Wang, an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco.

On Sunday the American delegation had concelebrated Mass for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul with Bishop Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri and priests from the Diocese of Danang, about 50 miles south of Hue.

Tet 2009 marked the first day of the Year of the Ox. Vietnamese Catholics customarily celebrate Tet as Thanksgiving Day, giving thanks to God for his many graces in the past year. They also pay respect to their ancestors and express gratitude to their living parents and grandparents. Young children receive red envelopes of cash called “li xi,” which means “lucky money.”

At the end of the Lunar New Year Mass in Hue, children were given red envelopes filled with something other than cash—Bible Verse greeting cards.

Like Hanoi, the Archdiocese of Hue has repeatedly clashed with the Vietnamese government over the ownership of confiscated church properties, Fr. An Dang reports.

Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, the most-visited religious Catholic shrine in Vietnam, is the focus of one of the most intense conflicts. Since 1975, all 58 acres of land surrounding the basilica have been seized by the government.

Last April Nguyen Duc Chinh, deputy chairman of the People's Committee of Quang Tri, at a meeting with Archbishop Stephen Nguyen Nhu The and Bishop Francis Le Van Hong, announced that 52 acres around the basilica would soon be returned to the church.

However, Fr. An Dang says, the official’s promise remains unfulfilled.

Another conflict concerns An Bang parish, which is about 16 miles southeast of Hue city. About 800 Catholics live and fish in the parish area, where a makeshift church was built “in the middle of nowhere” on land donated by a parishioner upon his death.

“Parishioners in this congregation are so impoverished that their newly erected church has not even a single chair. Churchgoers often struggle with rain or hot sun since there is no roof, no wall, nothing,” Fr. An Dang tells CNA.

“Their poverty, however, does not appeal to the pity of the government nor can it spare them from attacks of officials who are so driven by greed and ambition that they have been trying to take every step to dissociate the people with their legitimate need for a decent worshiping place where they can be in communion with Christ. They have turned down each and every request to build a ‘real church’ from the priest and his parishioners while publicly announcing they had already made plans to seize the land and turn the area into a tourist resort.”

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