Vinh (AsiaNews ) - "Evangelization is the primary mission of the Church", as Pope Francis has mentioned several times when he "invites" Christians to "come out, meet and welcome" people. A call that is also true for Vietnamese Catholics, who must exploit "their youth and their vivacity", capitalizing on the "testimony of the missionaries" who have given their lives to spread the Gospel in the region. This is what Msgr . Paul Nguyen Thai Hop tells AsiaNews. The Bishop of Vinh was recently targeted in a smear campaign promoted by thE Hani government and media for having sought the release of two My Yen parishioners, sentenced to prison even though innocent . "The number of Christians" in recent years "has increased", the prelate adds, but "the Catholic Church in Vietnam still faces difficulties and resistance". First, we need to instill greater missionary "awareness" among the faithful, who still prefer to "custody" rather than "proclaim the Faith".
The diocese of Vinh includes the provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh and counts 529 thousand faithful, about 10% of the total population. The Bishop describes it as a "strong, well organized and very united" community, but one which still faces "many obstacles" often posed by the "local governments" as occurred in the districts of Con Cuong , Quy Chau and Quy Hop, in the province of Nghe An.
Like all the Vietnamese Church, the diocese of Vinh also faces many challenges, including " more restrictive policies [government], the religious policy of the local administration, the lack of dialogue and respect for the truth" by the central authorities. "We try to overcome these obstacles through reconciliation - says Msgr . Paul - but we want the people's rights to be respected, in accordance with the criteria of truth and justice". There are also more practical difficulties, such as "continuous floods in the central provinces" where the population lives from the land and the average income is lower than in other parts of the country. However, in such a complicated situation "the faith of the laity" is a source of renewed hope.
Vinh's Catholic community, like in other areas of the country has launched a series of social initiatives, including "Xa Doai clinic, in the service of the sick in the area" without distinction of social class or religion. Moreover, the bishop adds, "we have created a network of small pharmacies throughout the diocese", to better serve - thanks to the collaboration of the religious sisters - "the sick". Every year "doctors and nurses" visit the poorest and most remote areas "to distribute free medicines and treat the needy". In the education sector there are several schools and diocesan centers for the disabled and those on the margins of society. Finally, the Church supports local small businesses "for example the find to ensure feed for dairy cows" and incentives to " build houses " in areas of high flood risk . All activities, the prelate notes, " launched thanks to the cooperation of the diocesan Caritas".
The contribution "of the laity and their dynamic participation in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel" has been essential in these initiatives. Bishop Paul confirms that they "participate in the pastoral activities", but it is necessary, he adds, to ensure their proper "formation" in these tasks. And this year the focus is on family life, with a pastoral program aimed "to make each family the center of evangelization and an engine of evangelization of society."
Finally, the Bishop of Vinh calls for a real reform of the current land law. It is the cause of many disputes between citizens and government, between Church leaders and central or local authorities. The new law enacted in 2013 by the Vietnamese authorities (Article 53) did not change the old text and the control remains in the hands of the state. Clashes, violence and disputes in court prove, says the prelate , "the inadequacies of this land law" and the mistakes made by the progressive bureaucratization set in act "by local governments , while the loser is [always] the people".
Out of Vietnam's 87 million people, 48 per cent are Buddhists, more than 7 per cent are Catholics, 5.6 per cent follow syncretistic religions and 20 per cent are atheist. As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs. In recent years, religious freedom has steadily eroded. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, increasingly subjected to the whims of the Communist Party and the one-party state. (DS)