When Card Crescenzio Sepe visited Vietnam in 2007 he was struck by such faith. “People go to Mass in large numbers,” he said. “They are very religious and diligent. They take religious rituals to heart, bringing their faith in God and the Church.”
All this is the result of the sacrifice made by 117 Vietnamese saints who died for their faith, so that today, confronted with life’s many challenges, Vietnamese Catholics are steadfast in their belief in God and the Church.
On 12 May a delegation of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) travelled to Vietnam in order to meet dissidents and Catholics, both lay people and clergymen, who are discriminated by local authorities.
Wherever they went local officials were conspicuous by their absence.
Yesterday the delegation met some lay people from a community in Moc Chau district (Son La province) who belong to one of several underground churches that exist in an area of mountains and fields, some 25 kilometres from the city of Moc Chau.
The community is made up of some 700 families who migrated to the province from up north in search of a better life. Many of these Catholics have children studying at Son La University.
Here in Son La local authorities are in charge of matters religious. Back in 2004 they passed a bylaw on religious issues and decided that people should not have religious freedom. Indeed even though Son La Catholics constitute one of three Catholic communities in the diocese of Hung Hoa, local authorities have “ruled that the city of Son La does not need religion.”
For all these years city officials have kept Catholics and their communities under a watchful eye, especially at Christmas, Easter and other religious holidays.
Over these many years they have not only decreed that Mass should be banned, but they have also ruled that religious activities involving lay people (pictured, an altar under a staircase in Son La) are a no-no. They have decided that “no one has the right to go other people’s homes to pray”.
As an old Vietnamese saying puts it, “Every local ruler is the king of the village;” thus local authorities can do as they see fit.
Never the less, as everyone knows Vietnamese Catholics have always kept their faith and belief in God and the Church whatever the circumstances; “no power or influence” can shake that.