Vinh (AsiaNews) - As bishops, but mainly as Vietnamese, it is "our mission" to contribute to the development of the country. Growth that passes through a "change of mentality", nullifying the centrality "of the Marxist ideology" and favoring a "return to the traditional culture". This is what Mon. Paul Nguyen Thai Hop underlined in an interview with AsiaNews. Mons. Paul, Bishop of Vinh, is a staunch supporter of the constitutional reform-campaign - promoted through petitions and collected signatures - for the end of the hegemony of the single, communist party system. The prelate, President of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, confirms the union of intent which binds the Vietnamese clergy to the intellectual movements supporting the change, because "it is the responsibility of all to think about the fate of the nation." A goal, he warns, that can only be achieved through "an education that looks to the young people and students in particular", considered the true authors of real development that not only affects the economy, but also involves "society, politics and religion".
For 68-year-old Dominican - in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him bishop and assigned him to the Diocese of Vinh - Vietnam is living "a difficult historical situation", characterized by "problems with China" that date back to independence and conflicts "in the East Sea" (South China Sea). It constitutes "a threat" to the integrity of a nation that since the 80s has made tremendous progress "in the economic sector", but which did not affect "the social, political and religious" spheres in the same way. "Today the limits of this change - adds Mons. Paul - are emerging in all their clarity. And that is why a radical change is necessary for the destiny of the country". All the bishops, he says, have "agreed on this point."
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Vinh is a particular territory, in the north of Vietnam and characterized by clashes between faithful and authorities which have often resulted in open repression, arrests, trials and sentencing to prison. However, the number of the faithful is growing: there are more than 500,000 Catholics in a population of just over 6 million inhabitants (2010 data) and a territory subdivided into 179 parishes. "We are experiencing many difficulties", recounts Mons. Paul, "but the faith is steadfast. We also have many vocations, so that our young people today are not only found in Vinh but also in different dioceses and in many communities around the country".
On the subject of evangelization "there are lights and shadows", because if it is true that "Catholics are strong", limits also persist, so that "we cannot announce the word of God so easily, as happens in other nations". The clash between Catholics and Communists "is very strong," added the prelate, who means to speak specifically of "clashes" and not open "persecutions" against the faithful. "And even today these clashes are apparent", he continued, "and dialogue isn't as strong as it should be".
He denounces the lack of effective means of communication ("we had no television, radio, newspapers ..."), but "the arrival of the internet has brought changes, so that each diocese and each congregation had its own website". Therefore, today more than ever, the priority is to carry out a "training of personnel" who may be - unlike in the past - ever more "qualified". "Both for what regards evangelisation", said Mons. Paul, "and social growth. We want to form especially young people and students, with a view to the future and to work, to give a concrete and effective contribution to the growth of Vietnamese society".
Today the Bishop of Vinh is preparing for a trip to South America - where he taught for several years - to attend World Youth Day (WYD), to be held in Rio de Janeiro at the end of July. "There will be a small Vietnamese delegation", he confirms, "but it won't be large because the economic crisis is beginning to be felt also in Vietnam. But it will be an opportunity to meet Pope Francis, young people from all over the world and to meet up again, in Brazil and Peru, with many old friends".
Mons. Paul Nguyen Thai Hop was born in Lang Anh, Nghe An on February 2, 1945. He attended the Dominican Center for Studies and the University of Saigon, where he obtained a Licentiate in Eastern Philosophy (1970). He earned in Switzerland a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Fribourg (1978), and later a doctorate in moral theology at the Faculty of Theology in São Paolo (Brazil). He was ordained a priest August 8, 1972. After ordination he taught in the faculty of theology in Lima (Peru), in the 1980s, and at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (1997-2003). From 2000 he taught a course in ethics and social doctrine of the Church at the Dominican Center for Studies and in various religious institutes, and a course in religious studies at the University of Ho Chi Minh City. (DS)