Vietnam, The Catholic Church in
VIETNAM, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Early History. According to traditional mythology, Vietnamese history began with Lạc Long Quân (Dragon Lord Lạc) and his consort Âu Cỏ, who gave birth to 100 sons. Lạc Long Quân led 50 sons with him to the sea and Âu Cỏ took 50 with her to Mount Tản-viên, from which came the first of the Hùng kings who ruled over the Lạc (a.k.a. Ðông-sỏn) kingdom of Văn-lang, the earliest known Vietnamese kingdom. Archaeological excavations reveal that the Lạc society was sophisticated in its use of bronze implements and agronomic expertise. Their success in taming and farming the land attracted the Chinese, who moved in and attempted to control the area. Sporadic resistance to Chinese domination culminated in the celebrated rebellion of the two sisters Trưng Trắc and Trúng Nhị in 40 a.d., which resulted in a brief three-year independence for the Vietnamese. This brief independence was ruthlessly crushed by the Chinese General Ma Yuan, who imposed direct Chinese rule over the region. Chinese colonial rule lasted for almost 1,000 years, until the collapse of the Chinese T'ang dynasty in 939 paved the way for the establishment of the indigenous Lý dynasty in 1010. The Lý dynasty was succeeded in 1225 by the Trẩn dynasty, which was in turn succeeded by the Lê dynasty (1428–1788).
European Influence. The arrival of European explorers in the early sixteenth century coincided with the
near-collapse of the weak and decadent Lê dynasty. Two feuding clans, the Trịnh in the north and the Nguyễn in the south, fought for political control throughout much of the next two centuries, resulting in much general unrest. Capitalizing on the peasants' discontent, three brothers, Nguyễn Nhạc, Nguễyn Lữ and Nguyễn Huệ led a peasant revolt that overthrew the Lê dynasty, crushed the power of the Trịnh and Nguyễn clans, and established the Tây-Sỏn dynasty in 1788. Defeated but not vanquished, Nguyễn Phú Ánh from the southern Nguyễn clan overthrew the Tây-Sỏn dynasty with French military assistance, and declared himself Emperor Gia Long of the Nguyễn dynasty in 1802. Taking advantage of subsequent Nguyễn rulers' persecution of foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians, the French military conquered the southern region (Nam Việt) in 1862, which became French Cochinchina. Moving northward, they gained control of the northern region (Bắc Việt), which they called Tonkin, and by 1883 they gained control of the central region (Trung Việt), which they named Annam. In 1887, the French combined French Cochinchina, Tonkin and Annam with Cambodia (and ten years later, Laos) to form the French Indochinese Union.
Political Upheavals. The twentieth century witnessed the sporadic attempts of Vietnamese nationalist groups to regain independence for Vietnam. The Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II severely weakened French control, enabling the Việt-Minh, a broad coalition of anti-French nationalists and communists, to drive the French out of the northern region. From their southern bases, the French fought a losing war to regain control of the north. After suffering a humiliating defeat in Ðiện Biên Phủ, the French and the communists signed the 1954 Geneva Accord which divided the country at the 17th parallel: communist North Vietnam (comprising the former French Tonkin and northern part of Annam) and non-communist South Vietnam (comprising the former French Cochinchina and southern part of Annam). Ignoring the Geneva Accord, North Vietnam invaded the South, drawing the United States into a bloody war. In 1973, the warring parties with their respective sponsors met at Geneva and signed a cease-fire agreement which led to the withdrawal of American troops. The North then invaded the South in 1974, and with the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the country was reunified under communist rule.
History of the Catholic Church in Vietnam
Origins. Christianity was first introduced in Vietnam in 1533 by Inigo, a European missionary on his way to China. Two Jesuits fleeing persecution in Japan, Francesco Buzomi and Diego Carvalho, established the first permanent mission in 1615 at Ðà Nẵng in central Vietnam (Trung Việt). Full-scale missionary activity commenced with the arrival of another contingent of Jesuits in 1624. Leading this contingent was Alexander de rhodes, SJ (1593–1660), the "apostle of Vietnam." De Rhodes made his way to Hà Nội in 1627, where he encountered extraordinary success, baptizing the king's sister and about 6,700 Vietnamese in three years. In 1630, he was expelled and the first Christian (unnamed) was beheaded for the faith. De Rhodes returned to Vietnam in 1639, reporting that there were now 100,000 Vietnamese Catholics. The influx of new missionaries from the paris foreign mission society (Société des Mission Étrangères de Paris) led to a period of swift growth. By 1658, there were 300,000 Catholics in Bắc Việt alone. In 1659, the burgeoning mission was divided at the Giang River into two vicariates apostolic: Bắc Việt in the north and Nam Việt in the south. The first seminary opened in 1666, and the first two native priests were ordained in 1668. In 1670, Pierre lambert de la motte, a missionary priest of the Paris Foreign Society, founded the first indigenous religious congregation of women, the lovers of the holy cross (Dòng Mến Thánh Giá).
Persecution. The first major persecution erupted in 1698, the culmination of sporadic persecutions in preceding decades. Others followed (notably 1712, 1723, and 1750) during which at least 100,000 Christians, including the first of the canonized (Gil and Lenziniana, 1745), were martyred. Persecutions ceased temporarily in 1787 when the local vicar apostolic, Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, MEP, arranged a treaty between the French government and the ambitious southern provincial lord who later became Emperor Gia Long (1802–1820). Persecution resumed with increased intensity during the reign of his fourth son and successor, Emperor Minh Mạng (1820–1841). A strict Confucian, Emperor Minh Mạng feared that Christianity was undermining the Confucian foundation of Vietnamese socio-political life, doubting Vietnamese Christians' absolute fealty to and veneration of him as the "son of heaven." In 1825, he barred new foreign missionaries from entry. When rebellion broke out in 1833 and rebels sought help from Christian missionaries, the enraged emperor responded with a ferocious persecution campaign, expelling all remaining foreign missionaries and forcing Vietnamese Christians to apostatize by trampling a crucifix underfoot. Under the reign of his son, Emperor Thiệu Trị (1841–1847), persecutions abated somewhat, with sporadic executions and expulsions.
The final and worst wave of persecution resumed in 1847 with the ascension of Emperor Tự Ðùc (1847–1883) to the throne. Cruel, insecure and intransigent, the emperor distrusted foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians, suspecting them of instigating and participating in sporadic rebellions against his rule. Foreign missionaries were executed, and Vietnamese Christians were marked on their faces with the words "tả đ–ạo" ("false religion"). Families were forcibly separated and tortured to elicit recantations. The ferocity of Tự Ðức's persecution reached such proportions that French emissaries lodged a formal protest at his court in 1856. The decapitation of Bishop José María Díaz in 1857 was the last straw. The French seized upon it as an excuse to invade Vietnam, occupying Ðà Nẵng in 1858 and moving southward. By a treaty with the French in 1862, Tự Ðức agreed to grant freedom of religion to his subjects and to cede the southern region (Nam Việt) to the French. The interpretation of the terms of the 1862 treaty became a point of contention between Tự Ðức and the French, who openly sided with his rivals. The French captured Hà Nội in 1873 and seized control of the northern region (Bắc Việt). Tự Ðức's plea to China for help to drive out the French went unheeded, and by his death in 1883 the French had extended their grip over the whole of Vietnam.
During the 19th century, a total of almost 300,000 Christians suffered for their faith. Catholic resistance, shown notably in hiding priests, was heroic. In the five years between 1857 and 1862, it is estimated that more than 5,000 faithful were martyred in addition to 215 native priests and nuns, and about 40,000 Catholics were dispossessed and exiled from their home regions. Although the records of most who suffered have been destroyed, a total of 117 martyrs, comprising 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spanish Dominicans, and 10 French members of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, were later beatified on four different occasions (64 on May 27,
1900, 8 on April 20, 1906, 20 on May 2, 1909 and 25 on April 29, 1951). Of these 117, 8 were bishops, 50 priests (15 Dominicans, 8 members of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, 27 seculars), 1 seminarian, and 58 lay people (9 Dominican tertiaries and 17 catechists). On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized these 117 Martyrs of Vietnam (see vietnam, martyrs of, ss.)
[j. y. tan]
The Catholic Church in Present-Day Vietnam
The Church in the North. Cut off from the Church in the south and the Church of Rome for almost 21 years (1954–75), persecuted by the Communist government, and devastated by the departure of more than half a million laity and clergy in the 1954 exodus, the Church in the north barely survived with only slightly more than half of the Catholic population remaining. Several dioceses in the north lost more than half of their members in the 1954 migration, and all but two lost more than half of the clergy (see Table 3: Decimation of the Northern Church, 1954). After 1954 the Communist government confiscated the Church's social and cultural institutions, and confined the clergy and religious to strictly religious activities. Bishops and priests were practically under house arrest. Sick people had to be carried to the priest's house for the sacrament of anointing; a pastor could not celebrate Mass outside of his parish without the special permission of local authorities. In the aftermath of the Communist victory over the south in 1975, there was another massive exodus. More than 1.5 million Vietnamese fled to foreign countries, especially to the United States.
After 1986, when the government began a policy of liberalization, Church life improved significantly. Liturgical reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council were slowly implemented. The new Roman Missal in a revised translation came into use. Bibles, catechisms, and liturgical books no longer needed to be smuggled to the north at great personal risk as "counterrevolutionary propaganda."
Notable were a new translation of the Bible by Joseph Cardinal Trịnh Văn Căn and the multivolumed work on spirituality B ướс Ðướng Hành H ương (On Pilgrimage ) by Bishop Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Sang. The Catholic magazine Ngướ[symbol omitted]ἶ Công Giáo Việt Nam (Vietnamese Catholics ) is held suspect by many because it is published by a group regarded as friendly to the government.
Church activities are mostly limited to sacramental celebrations and pious devotions, without much impact on the socio-political and cultural order. Religious education consists mainly in teaching prayers and question-and-answer catechism class in preparation for first communion and confirmation. Instruction is most often given by the elders in the parish who, deprived of all opportunities for religious training since 1954, have not had access to the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Catechetical textbooks such as Bổn đồng ấu and Thánh giáothuyết minh, written by Bishop Hồ Ngọc Cẩn in 1939, are still in common use. Despite these handicaps, the Catholic population in the north has grown steadily. Christian faith is nourished predominantly by the family with its practice of the daily recitation of morning and evening prayers. Prayers most often include the rosary, litanies, prayers to the patron saints (especially St. Joseph), the Miserere (Psalm 51) for the ancestors, and the acts of faith, hope, and charity. When a priest visits the parish church, bells toll to announce the Mass.
In the 1990s the government signaled a more open policy regarding the Church. It allowed seminaries to open in the archdiocese of Hà Nội and in the dioceses of Vinh and Thanh Hoá. In 1994 the government permitted the transfer of Bishop Bartholomew Nguyễn Sơn Lâm, formerly bishop of Ðà Lạt (in the south), to the diocese of Thanh Hoá that had been sede vacante since February 1990.
The Church in the South. Compared with the Church in the north, the Church in the south is in a far more favorable situation. Not only did it benefit from the massive influx of Catholics in 1954, it also enjoyed twenty years of freedom (1955–75) which coincided with a period of radical renewal in the Catholic Church. After 1975 it was the policy of the government that all religious organizations must be under its control. As a consequence almost all Catholic organizations were disbanded, from the committees of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference to parish councils. Even the Development Fund, which was administered by the Episcopal Development Committee in 870 parishes, vanished. Catholic students who wanted to enroll in universities encountered difficulties because of their Catholic identity. A government decree, issued Nov. 11, 1977, declared that permission of city, county, and province authorities was required for religious activities with numerous participants. Christmas celebrations, catechism classes, priests' retreats, visits by bishops for confirmation, in short, anything out of the ordinary needed special permits or a least had to be reported to local authorities.
Generally speaking, the government relaxed some of its controls after 1988. A decree issued on March 21, 1991, stated that religious activities such as prayer meetings, liturgical celebrations, preaching, and religious education that were in accord with local religious tradition and had been listed in the annual programs registered with the government no longer required permission. In practice, there exists greater freedom in big cities, whereas in areas the government still considers unsafe, such as the western mountainous region, difficulties persist. Despite the government control and restrictions, the Church in south has continued to grow in numbers and influence in the two ecclesiastical provinces in the south, Huế and Hồ Chí Minh, although the percentage of Catholics relative to overall population has decreased.
Bishops. The first indigenous Vietnamese bishop, Nguyễn Bá Tòng was appointed in 1933. By 1964 the entire hierarchy in North and South Vietnam was indigenous Vietnamese except for two French-born missionary (MEP) prelates. From the 1970s onward, all Vietnamese bishops were indigenous. The Vietnamese government's policy of seeking to control all religious organizations had resulted in much tension with the Holy See on the issue of episcopal appointments, especially in Hồ Chí Minh City (Saigon). The Holy See had appointed the then Archbishop Nguyễn Văn Thuận as coadjutor with right of succession in 1975. However, the Vietnamese government refused to recognize him and imprisoned him as a collaborator. Upon his release, he went into exile. Pope John Paul II appointed him the President of the Pontifical Commission on Peace and Justice and in 2001, made him a cardinal. Hùynh Công Nghi, bishop of Phan Thiết diocese, was appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese in August 1993 but was prevented by the government to assume office. In effect, the archdiocese was sede impedita ; it was administered in limited capacity by auxiliary bishop Phạm Văn Nẫm. The impasse was finally resolved 23 years later when the Vietnamese government agreed to the recognize the Holy See's appointment of Archbishop Phạm Minh Mẫn in 1998.
Vietnamese Episcopal Conference. The two vicariates apostolic of 1659 increased to 17 in 1957. In 1960, the Holy See formally established the Vietnamese hierarchy with three archdioceses and 18 suffragan sees. Before 1975 the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, which, though called Vietnamese, in fact consisted only of the two ecclesiastical provinces of the south, (Huế and Hồ Chí Minh City) held annual meetings regularly. After national unification in 1976, the conference temporarily suspended its activities. In May 1980, the conference met officially for the first time in Hà Nội, and by September of 1994 there had been seven such meetings. Each meeting and its location required permission of the government. Of the seven meetings, only the sixth was held in Hoâ Chí Minh City; the others were in Hà Nội. The bishops issued two pastoral letters.
To judge the effectiveness of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, account must be taken of the extraordinary circumstances under which it has had to operate. All religious activities, including those of Buddhism, Protestantism, Caodaism, and Islam, must be conducted within the legal constraints of a socialist-Communist government. Besides having to follow the directions of the Holy See, which negotiates common agreements with the government, the conference must abide by the laws and customs of the country. For instance, at the beginning of the sixth meeting in Hoâ Chí Minh City (Oct. 18-26, 1993), Tröông T2an Sang, head of the City People's Committee,
welcomed the attending bishops, and at its close, Bishop Lê Phong Thua;n, secretary of the Conference, sent to Võ Quang, head of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs, a report on the procedures and contents of the meeting. The twenty-six bishops attending the seventh meeting in Hà Nội (Sept. 5–12, 1994) were received by General Secretary Ðỗ[symbol omitted] Mủỡ and by Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt. The conference has one president, two vice-presidents, one general secretary, three associate secre taries, three chairmen of three standing committees (on worship; on priests, religious and seminarians; and on the laity).
In a memorandum dated Oct. 26, 1993 to Võ Văn Kiệt, the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference requested that bishops and priests be allowed to move about freely in their territories, without need of permission, to perform their ministry. In his communication no. 46 CV/TGCP, Vủ Quang, head of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs, affirmed that the government would create favorable conditions for bishops and priests to move about without need of permission in their territories to perform their ministry. Permission to travel to Rome or abroad for ad limina visits or for conferences was subsequently granted with greater frequency and ease, though bishops who were still not considered "good citizens" experienced delays in obtaining travel documents. The government also permitted Cardinal Paul Joseph Phạm Ðình Tụng of Hà Nội and seven Vietnamese bishops to attend the 1998 Asian Synod in Rome.
Clergy. Since 1975 priestly ordinations have required permission of the government. Bishops must provide city and county authorities with a detailed dossier on the candidate who will be interviewed several times by the police and other local authorities to assess his suitability for ordination. Most dioceses have celebrated priestly ordinations annually. The diocese of Huề is an exception. Before the ordination of five priests on Sept. 1, 1994, no one had been ordained for the diocese in 19 years. Since 1954, the ten northern dioceses have suffered a severe shortage of priests. Despite unification of the country, the government does not allow priests of the south to serve in the dioceses of the north. Annual retreats for the clergy have been organized with the permission of the government to whom the name of the preacher and those of the participants must be submitted in advance.
A number of priests actively participate in the Committee for the Unification of Vietnamese Catholics (Ủy ban Ðoàn Kềt Công giào Việt Nam), known until 1990 as the Committee for the Unification of National Vietnamese Catholics. The bishops of five dioceses (Xuân Lộc, Phú Cường, Long Xuyên, Kon Tum, and Mỹ Tho) sent letters of congratulation to the organization on the occasion of its second general assembly in October 1990, attended by 133 priests, 17 religious, and 151 laypeople. Because this organization is part of the Vietnamese National Front, it is held suspect by some who regard it as an instrument of the government. To others it plays a useful role of liaison between the government and the Church under current political circumstances. All the priests, religious, and laypeople of this organization are in good standing with and faithful to the Church.
On May 20, 1992, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, sent a communication to Bishop Nguyễn Minh Nhật, president of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, stating that no priest is permitted to take part in the Committee for the Unification of the Vietnamese Catholics. In June 1992, a government representative protested this ruling of the Vatican as contrary to the Vietnamese constitution concerning the human and civil rights of the Vietnamese people and as violating the accord between the Vatican and the government of Vietnam on the necessity of holding prior discussion with each other about any measure to be taken with regard to the Church. On Aug. 20, 1992, a representative of the Vatican officially responded that it falls within the competency of the Church to admonish its priests regarding participation in political organizations. It was added, however, that such participation is voluntary and that priests must observe the laws of their country. In light of this, a number of priests continue to be active in the committee, and its weekly magazine, Công giáo và Dân toc (The Catholic Church and the People ) continues to be regularly published.
Seminarians and Seminaries. After 1975 all major seminaries were shut down, and the seminary property was confiscated by the government. In 1986, some seminaries were allowed to reopen. By the end of 1994 seminaries were in operation in six dioceses: Hà No;i, Vinh-Thanh, Nha Trang, Hoâ Chí Minh, Câan Thô, and Hu2e. The number of seminarians grew so large that in the October 1993 the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference requested the opening of two more seminaries in the dioceses of Xuân Lo;c and Thái Bình. The conference asked further that the buildings of St. Pius X Pontifical Institute be returned to the Church for the use of theological training. In its response, dated Jan. 17, 1994, the government Committee on Religious Affairs made no mention of the request to open two more seminaries, but in paragraph 9 it stated that the buildings of St. Pius X Pontifical Institute were being used for nuclear research and that the request that they be returned to the Church would be taken into consideration in the future.
Besides these official seminaries, there are several underground centers where thousands of seminarians are being trained. The lack of qualified professors is severe, and the level of academic preparation is far from satisfactory. In general, since 1954 in the north, and since 1975 in the south, there has been little serious intellectual formation for the clergy. The government has permitted a few priests to go to France, Rome and the United States for advanced studies.
Religious. All religious institutions were confiscated after 1975. Religious were dispersed into small communities in new "economic zones" and forced to engage in various activities beside ministry to eke out a meager existence. Life was especially hard for female religious and those not belonging to international orders. Nonetheless, enthusiasm for and commitment to consecrated life flourished. Several religious orders, especially female ones, even went to the north and secretly recruited vocations and brought them to the south for formation. As a consequence, the police would search a religious community in the dead of night to look for "illegal residents." In general, however, after 1986 life for religious improved significantly. They were then able to move from place to place and community to community. Some were permitted to go abroad for studies, and religious superiors were allowed to attend general assemblies of their orders in other countries. The government has permitted Archbishop Nguyễn Văn Bình of Hoâ Chí Minh City to sponsor theological classes for religious: one session for female religious (a two-year program, full time, with 70 religious); a second session for female religious (a five-year program, one month per year, with 400 religious, some of whom came from the north); one session for male religious (a six-year program, with 70 religious preparing for ordination).
In many places women religious conduct kindergartens. A secular religious society in Thủ Ðùc runs a boarding school with nearly 1,000 students, from the sixth to the twelfth grade. Religious are working in hospitals, leprosaria, and retirement homes. Many are enrolled at state universities. A large number teach reading, catechism, and health care among the moutain tribes in the highlands. Some female religious orders have quietly sent missionaries to Cambodia and Laos.
Catholic Publications and Intellectual Life. With the victory of the Communists in 1975, all important Catholic educational institutions were either nationalized or shut down. The Catholic University in Ðà Lạt was closed. Many books, documents, archives in libraries, diocesan chanceries, religious houses, and private homes were burnt for fear of harboring incriminating evidence. The library of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference located in Hoâ Chí Minh City was as good as destroyed. Fortunately, the libraries of St. Pius X Pontifical Faculty in Ðà Lạt and of St. Joseph Seminary of the Hoâ Chí Minh Archdiocese have been preserved in a relatively good condition.
Pre-1975 Catholic periodicals and magazines which no longer exist include Thăng Tiến (Progress), Phụng Vụ (Liturgy), Nhà Chúa (God's House), Tông Ð[symbol omitted] (Apostolate), Sống Ðạo (Christian Living), Phỏưng Ðông (The Orient), Trái Tim Ð[symbol omitted]c Mẹ (Mary's Heart), Công Lý Hòa Bình (Justice and Peace), Ð[symbol omitted]c Mẹ Hằng C[symbol omitted]ú Giúp (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), and Linh Mục Nguyệt San (Priest's Monthly Magazine). Diocesan weekly or monthly newspapers also disappeared. Only the Catholic ordo was permitted publication. The well-known bookstore Khai-Trí in H[symbol omitted] Chí Minh City was confiscated, and its owner sent to re-education camp. On May 3, 1977, a decree of the Information and Culture Department published the names of 857 authors whose works were forbidden circulation. In December 1980, the Jesuit educational Alexandre de Rhodes Center with its central library of more than 100,000 volumes was confiscated.
This does not mean that all publication and circulation of Catholic writings ceased. An underground press ran a brisk business thanks to computer and photocopying technologies. Foreign books on the Bible, theology, spirituality, and canon law were smuggled into the country and quickly translated into Vietnamese and widely distributed. Sometimes the original volumes were disassembled and photocopied, and the copies bound with gilded letters on the cover and publicly sold at muchreduced prices in bookstores such as those of the chancery of the Hoâ Chí Minh archdiocese, of the Redemptorists, and of Fatima Church at Bình Triệu. At times, the police would confiscate the books and impose fines, but distributors would usually resume their trade.
Since the late 1980s restrictions on publication of religious works have been eased. Works on the Bible, theology, spirituality, liturgy, and liturgical music have appeared. Of special note are new translations of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Roman Missal (the new version has been in use throughout the country since 1992). Deserving the highest praise is a modern translation of the New Testament with scholarly introduction and notes, the fruit of 20 years of labor by a team of 14 translators. Thirty thousand copies of this 1,299-page volume, published in August 1994, were sold out immediately. The translation of the Old Testament has also been completed.
A new set of forty-five laws regulating publication, promulgated on July 7, 1993, by Nông Ðuùc Ma:nh, the president of the National Assembly, relaxes government control of publication. Article 18, which deals with religious publications, stipulates that the government will create favorable conditions for the publication of catechisms, prayer books, and other religious works. On Oct. 26, 1993, Bishop Nguyễn Minh Nha;t, the president of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Voõ Văn Kiệt requesting, among other things, the establishment of a Catholic publishing house for Catholic books and of an official Catholic magazine.
The Twenty-First Century. Despite external difficulties, the Vietnamese Catholic Church is vibrant and dynamic. With regard to percentages, Vietnam has the third largest number of Catholics in Asia, after the Philippines and East Timor. This fact testifies to the truth of Tertullian's statement that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Such vibrancy and vitality are all the more remarkable given the hostile conditions under which the Church has had to operate, first in the north, then in the south. Even with the recent policies of liberalization, religious freedom is still under threat. At any rate, there is no danger whatsoever of a Vietnamese "national church" comparable to the Chinese Church in Communist China, even with the Committee for the Unification of Vietnamese Catholics, both because the government itself has no wish to institute such a thing and because the Vietnamese Catholic Church is strongly united with Rome and the universal Church.
It is the conviction of many Vietnamese, both at home and abroad, that the Communist regime will sooner or later topple, not necessarily by means of external military intervention, but because of its internal weaknesses. There is a basic contradiction between the Communist ideology and the profound religious ethos of the Vietnamese culture. The grip of the Communist government, unless strengthened by repression and violence, is bound to be pried open unless it begins to relax, as it has attempted to do so since the late 1980s.
Paradoxically, the greatest danger to the Vietnamese Catholic Church is not communism —it might be argued that communism has been a purifying fire for the Church—but unbridled capitalism that is now being viewed as the panacea of all social ills. In this context one of the urgent tasks of the Church seems to be disseminating the entire body of Catholic social teaching, especially that of John Paul II. Connected with this must be a decisive "option for the poor," which the Vietnamese hierarchy has consistently urged upon Church members in its pastoral letters. Another immediate task is the training or, as the case may be, re-training of the clergy and religious, and through them, the laity in all aspects of theology and ministry. It is easy to be seduced by external achievements such as the building of churches and other structures. Far more important is the building of the Church by means of what a Vietnamese archbishop calls the "living bricks" of personnel.
[p. c. phan]
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