Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The first pastoral visit to Vietnam by Card Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, is meant to boost the local Church's work of evangelisation and its missionary commitment.
The prelate, who also brought Pope Francis' blessing and expression of closeness, arrived in the Asian country last Monday and is scheduled to leave this Sunday.
During his weeklong visit, his schedule included meetings with the non-permanent papal representative, Mgr Leopoldo Girelli, as well as local bishops, priests, faithful and the country's authorities.
It also includes a number of celebrations. Of particular significance was the Mass held yesterday afternoon at the National Marian Shrine of La Vang, during which the cardinal entrusted the work of evangelisation in the Asian country to the Virgin.
Upon arrival in Vietnam, Card Filoni met with the leaders of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference, focusing on "zeal" missionary and the "tireless work" involved in evangelisation, in the sign of the Virgin of La Vang.
Turning to Card Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop emeritus of Saigon, and to the new cardinal, Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon, archbishop of Hanoi, he said he was "very happy to be here with you" and be able to meet "bishops, priests, nuns and men religious, seminarians, as well as lay people, and celebrate together various liturgies."
Welcoming the prefect of Propaganda Fide, the archbishop of Hanoi thanked him for his visit as "a friend, brother and teacher" in faith.
The archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, Mgr Paul Bui Van doc, who is president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, illustrated the Church's current situation in Vietnam, noting that it is working "according to Pope Francis' directives" on the path "of the New Evangelisation in all parishes and families."
Card Filoni's presence, the prelate added, "is a source of encouragement in the mission of proclaiming the Good News."
For his part, meeting with bishops, priests and faithful in the Archdiocese of Hanoi, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples spoke of a "meaningful" week, which filled him with "joy," a "first visit" marking "the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of evangelisation."
"Pope Francis told me to bring you his greetings and his blessing to the Church in Vietnam and to the country," the cardinal added.
Catholics may be a minority, he noted, but many people "have not yet known God." Thus, for the pope, Catholics should "go out and go to places where people have not yet heard the Good News"
Today, 48 per cent of Vietnam's 87 million people are Buddhist. Just over 7 per cent are Catholic, followed by 5.6 per cent who follow syncretistic religious practices. Finally, about 20 per cent are atheist.
Even though it is a minority (albeit a significant one), Christians are particularly active in the educational, health and social areas. By contrast, religious freedom is constantly shrinking.
Communist authorities in Hanoi have in fact targeted religious leaders, both Buddhist and Catholic, as well as entire communities.
In 2013 for example, in the Diocese of Vinh, state media and local authorities conducted a smear campaign and carried out targeted attacks against the local bishop and faithful.
State repression also affects individuals, guilty of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for people's civil rights.