The newly appointed Bishop of My Tho, Peter Nguyen Van Kham, has voiced enthusiasm for evangelizing and forming the faithful in his diocese for lively participation in the life of the Church.
“Evangelization must be the great task and challenge for my ministry in the coming years,” Bishop Nguyen told CNA July 30 via email.
He noted that his appointment comes at a time when the Vietnamese bishops' conference has begun a three-year plan for encouraging evangelization: that of families in 2014, parishes in 2015, and society in 2016.
Bishop Nguyen, who had been an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, was appointed My Tho's bishop July 26.
He was born in 1952 in a suburb of Hanoi. Two years later, when Ho Chi Minh defeated the French and consolidated communist control over northern Vietnam, his family fled, along with hundreds of thousands of other Catholics, to the south.
He studied philosophy at Saint Thomas Seminary in Long Yuen, theology at Saint Joseph´s Seminary in Ho Chi Minh City, and holds a doctorate in pastoral theology from the Catholic University of America.
In 1980, he was ordained a priest of the Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese, and in 2008 became an auxiliary bishop there.
“I have received abundant blessings during 34 years of serving in the Archdiocese of Hochiminh City,” he said. “The diocese is present in a large city that is seen as the social and economic center of Vietnam, and undergoing rapid changes in the last decades.”
“In this setting, the most important lesson I have learned is how to build up and foster the harmony 'with the heavens, with the earth, and with human beings'. That means keeping and cultivating the unity in diversity by listening, team-working, collaborating for God's Kingdom.”
Bishop Nguyen added that while serving as Ho Chi Minh City's diocesan pastoral center director, his focus was on the lay faithful, “who bring about … vibrancy for the life of the Church.”
“They must play a greater role in the Church, and as a result, formation is needed.”
He underscored the importance of the Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese for the Church in Vietnam, noting its 700,000 Catholics, 700 priests, and 100 religious congregations of men and women.
While My Tho is located only 44 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, the two cities are worlds apart.
“Regarding the diocese of My Tho, I must confess that I do not know much about it,” Bishop Nguyen wrote.
“This is why I need to learn a lot about (its) people and culture for a more effective ministry.”
Ho Chi Minh City – excluding its suburbs – is home to some 8 million people, and is Vietnam's largest city. It is 83 percent urban, and the archdiocese does not extend past the city limits. Ethnic Vietnamese form 94 percent of the population, and most of the remainder are Hoa.
My Tho, on the other hand, is a city of 220,000 and the capital of a province which is only 14 percent urban. In the Mekong Delta – a region home to My Tho and three other dioceses – while the majority of the population is ethnic Vietnamese, there are sizable minorities of Cham, Khmer, and Choa.
Additionally, the population of Ho Chi Minh City is 10 percent Catholic, higher than the national average.
“The striking thing is the low percentage of Catholics in the (My Tho) region,” Bishop Nguyen said. “Generally in Vietnam the percentage of Catholic population is about 7 percent, but it is just 3 percent in My Tho.”
As Bishop Nguyen prepares for his ministry to the people of the Diocese of My Tho, he may be able to expect guidance and help from his brother bishops in Ho Chi Minh City.
Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, the city's archbishop emeritus, was coadjutor bishop of My Tho from 1993 to 1998, though he never succeeded as its ordinary – he was instead transferred to Ho Chi Minh City.
And Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc of Ho Chi Minh City was appointed Bishop of My Tho in 1999, and remained there until he became coadjutor last autumn in the nation's largest city.