Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – In an interview with VietCatholic News a few weeks after their appointment, which Églises d'Asie (EDA) reprinted, Mgrs Pierre Huỳnh Văn Hai and Aloysius Nguyễn Hùng talked about the pastoral challenges they face as the new bishops of Vĩnh Long and Kontum.
Enthusiastic about their new complex tasks in a difficult environment, the new prelates said their main focus will be, among other things, priestly training, evangelisation, especially among the tribal people, educational programmes for young people and initiatives to celebrate the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.
Mgr Pierre Huỳnh Văn Hai, 61, is the new bishop of Vinh Long, a largely rural diocese founded in 1938 that covers almost 7,000 square kilometres with four million people, including almost 200,000 Catholics (4.5 per cent), 176 priests, 60 seminarians and 471 catechists.
The diocese is located in the Mekong delta region, where Vietnam’s longest river flows, and covers four provinces. It faces several challenges, including growing urbanisation.
There are many "concerns in the area of pastoral ministry and mission," the bishop noted, involving "children, youth, students, families, vocations and the mission."
For Mgr Huỳnh Văn Hai, “With respect in particular to the mission, the diocese needs to wake up and go forward" because the diocese is home "to different religions" and "many have never heard of the Lord and, therefore, of the Gospel."
The general spirit of the diocese is "mission-oriented" with "special attention to the Khmer," the prelate explained. There is in addition priestly training, which at present must cope with “too few minor seminaries."
This means that "our seminarians live in the world until the end of university and are highly influenced by it." They also operate in "very mechanical way" with computers and smartphones that have "replaced the human spirit."
In view of this, "a special commission in charge of vocations" was created to strengthen existing ones and find new ones in society.
Aloysius Nguyễn Hùng Vi, 63, has also identified long-standing "objective" difficulties in his diocese, Kontum, in the central highlands of Vietnam, an area of about 23,000 square kilometres with two million inhabitants, including 300,000 Catholics (16 per cent).
Local Catholics have faced attacks against religious freedom for quite some time, especially among the Montagnard people. Recently, Communist authorities have also threatened to tear down 22 chapels used for services and prayers in one of the diocese’s districts.
According to the prelate, the area is "remote and wild," home to "many ethnic minorities, different cultures and traditions", something that represents a "huge challenge". Thus, for the bishop, the first goal is to train the people who will be in contact with these communities.
"The task is huge and our forces limited," Mgr Nguyễn added. "I hope my brother priests in this diocese will assume, with me, the responsibility of building the kingdom of God in this mission area."
Finally, the bishop turned his thoughts to the Holy Year of Mercy, which begins on 8 December. Given the context, "I chose the Episcopal motto Caritas in Veritate,” he said, “words that remind me that I have to love truth and not be hypocritical," looking up to Christ who is "the way and the truth."