Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - For Catholics in one parish located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the most precious gift at Easter would be celebrating Mass in their church. This has been denied to them for the past 30 years after local authorities seized their place of worship and never returned it. Despite harassment, local Christians have continued to grow in their faith, engage in pastoral and social work and carry out activities of evangelisation that has resulted in thousands of converts and baptisms. Next Sunday, another group of catechumens will in fact do the same.
"I hope that in this Easter season, the local government will return our church," said a member of Hiếu Đạo parish. "We need it for Mass and prayer," he told AsiaNews. The parish itself is in the Diocese of Kon Tum (Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces), in Vietnam's Central Highlands.
The local bishop, Mgr Michael Hoàng Đức Oanh, heeded his plea by urging lay people in Kon Tum to "believe in God despite the loss of the church." In fact, "We are firmly convinced that God will return the altar to us."
During Lent, more than 30,000 Church members took part in retreats, sacraments and confession offered by diocesan priests.
Since the community still does not have a church, many residents showed their solidarity by making their homes available for Gospel readings and the Rosary. As in the past, Easter this year will see a large number of catechumens undergo baptism. According to diocesan sources, some 5,000 local people embraced Catholicism since 2003,.
Despite widespread poverty, Catholics in Kon Tum are very much involved in socially relevant activities, like charity work, children's education and care for the sick and the elderly. Funds are also raised to help women start up their own businesses or find jobs.
All this helps non-Christians as well, including atheists and members of other religions.
Located in Vietnam's central Highlands, the Diocese of Kon Tum covers an area of 25,000 km2. According to the latest figures (2003), Catholics number 261,000 out of 1.7 million residents.
The area is poor with an underdeveloped economy. However, it is rich in vocations and conversions, evidence of the vitality of the local Church.
Indonesians come into contact with the Church in schools and the workplace. Many catechumens are converted by the testimonies of priests and religious.
The Songkran festival provides Thais a great opportunity to return to their home town and spend time with family. Thai Catholics are engaged in the celebrations as well. Good Friday falls on the first day of Thai New Year. "Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is an exhortation for us to do the same and serve others," said Fr Kriengyot Piyawanno.