Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - A Church, that of Saigon, that is in rapid growth, more so than any other in Vietnam. A Church in which "generally" the government does not object to the proposed appointment of bishops by the Vatican ("when there have been difficulties the Vatican has had to overcome them"). A Church which no longer has to ask permission to accept candidates for the priesthood into the seminary – which are also growing in number - who, just as lay people, must abandon the mentality of “self defence" which has characterised them so far and move forward on the path of dialogue "with all sectors of society, including the state" for service to the Gospel, to the life of all people, Catholic or otherwise, and the country's development.
Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter has thus described the current reality of his archdiocese of Saigon, and some elements of the Church of his country, including relations with the government. The cardinal outlines the growth of his Church in a series of data: comparing the situation of 1998 with 2009, parishes have increased from 191 to 200, the number of faithful from 524 281 to 662 148, priests from 244 to 318 diocesan, 169 to 327 religious, religious men and women from 2655 to 4754. From 2007 onwards, "I no longer have to ask permission to accept new candidates for the priesthood." Before the seminary could count on 20 every two years, now its entering its 20th year and there are 300 young men who are registered on the waiting list. "In the past 12 years, the average number of new priests was ten. In four years, we hope that number will become 20".
According to the Cardinal the "biggest challenge" now facing his diocese is the "response" that families must give to the appeal launched by the Grand Assembly of the People of God: "the renewal and enlargement of the communion in the Church of Christ so that we can integrate better into the social life of the people where we can live and proclaim the gospel".
Another challenge is abortion: each year charged more than two million abortions occur, "a scourge that undermines the moral and cultural traditions of our people." "Ten years after I first raised the issue, the authorities are concerned about the problem and have warned that this was leading us toward a catastrophe. Many organizations, Catholic and non-Catholic, have found different ways to help women not to resort to abortion. But now a new evil has appeared. We are finding more and more abandoned babies. There are religious and secular organizations that attempt to remedy the destructive consequences of a 'culture of death'. But a general mobilization is still lacking. All elements of society must work together to find a new lifestyle. "
Formation of the laity is another essential task for Card. Pham Minh Man. "For 30 years after 1975, the laity have not had the opportunity to broaden and deepen their understanding of faith and pastoral care. In 2004 we established a pastoral centre in order to meet these needs, especially for pastoral bodies, which do include more than five thousand members of pastoral councils, more than five thousand catechists, many components of the 900 choirs, of the 200 parishes and 25 apostolic organizations of the laity . Each year, six thousand people follow the courses, classes in pastoral formation at the centre. All this is aimed at helping the laity to engage in the growth of the Church and renew their spiritual life, to their fullest capacity".
A final issue concerns the possibility of a papal visit "within two or three years." "I have expressed this hope - the cardinal answered - at least twice, first to John Paul II. He asked me about how the communists and China would look at this. The second time I spoke to the Pope Benedict XVI. I told him a visit would bring more stability and hope. He raised two hands in the air, inviting me to pray and seek out God’s will. I didn’t understand in his gesture if he was speaking about the uncertainty of his health or the world situation today, or both?".