Mgr Đức Đạo is the fifth bishop of Xuân Lôc. Until May 2016 he was auxiliary bishop and rector of the major seminary, which today has more than 450 seminarians. He is also rector of the new Catholic Institute of Vietnam. In the diocese of Xuân Lôc, erected on 14 October 1965 out of the Archdiocese of Saigon, the Catholic faith is strong thanks to over 1.1 million faithful, about a third of the population. This is partly due to a massive influx of northern Catholics after 1954. At present, the diocese has 250 parishes, run by 500 priests with 447 men religious and 1,810 nuns.
Hanoi (AsiaNews/EdA) – Bishop Giuse (Joseph) Đinh Đức Đạo, Bishop of Xuân Lộc, was born on 2 March 1945 in Bùi Chum, a very Catholic diocese in North Vietnam. In 1954 he followed his family when they fled to the South. At the age of 19, he entered the Saint Joseph Major Seminary in Saigon. The following year he was sent to Rome to the Institute of the Propagation of the Faith where he was ordained priest at the age of 26 on 27 March 1971. He obtained a doctorate in moral theology at the Alfonsian Academy and a doctorate in missiology at the Gregorian University. In Rome, he headed the Centro internazionale di animazione missionaria. More recently, he led for ten years the Coordinating Office for the Pastoral Care of Vietnamese Abroad. In 2009, he returned to the Diocese of Xuân Lôc where he was appointed rector of the major seminary. Four years later, in February 2013, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the diocese.
In your bishopric, your seminary is quite imposing ...
Yes, it is. Our seminary has the largest number of seminarians in Vietnam: 454 from 11 dioceses, half from Xuân Lôc. In the whole country, we have about 2,000 seminarians in eight major seminaries. Our diocese was founded in 1965, from the Archdiocese of Saigon. Out of 3.5 million residents, more than a million are Catholics, one-third of the population. In fact, we are more numerous than in Saigon, which has about 700,000 Catholics. Our diocese has received waves of Catholic migrants. First in 1954 from the north, then in 1972 from the centre, and finally after 1975 from all over the country, because of the fertility of our land. In fact, local Catholics integrated with the migrants. We built a common religious tradition. I am, myself, from the North ...
How does the difference between North and South Vietnam show up today?
People from the north and the centre are more "combative" than people in the south. Because we had to fight to maintain our life and identities. In both everyday life and in the life of the Church, southerners lived more freely for a longer period of time. Our vocations here often come from northern families.
What are your relations with the authorities?
During the war, the Church tried to serve people, maintaining a balance. Since 1975, she has sought to be accepted, to be part of a society ruled by the Communists. Today, we are ostensibly accepted. We seek to live together, to serve society with a missionary spirit.
Today, Catholics are considered as a group among others. Our connection with Rome is not seen as a betrayal, a political danger. We are evolving more and more in a way that is favourable to evangelisation. But we must always be cautious in what we do ... Whether the regime is communist or capitalist, we are called to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ. Fighting is not the way of the Church. We must simply proclaim the Gospel of Christ, source of joy and reconciliation. Overall, the Church of Vietnam is perceived as a factor of reconciliation, especially because of our presence among the weakest.
Is the Catholic Church no longer blamed for its association with a foreign power?
That misconception, which has long identified Catholics with occupying Western powers, has made evangelising difficult. It is true that the Confucian identity of the imperial system could equate conversion to Christianity with treason. France used this very narrow identity, complicating the situation whilst defending persecuted people. Moreover, our mindset tends to put all religions on the same plane. But for us Jesus is an absolute: we must choose him.
How do you see the future of your diocese?
Our diocese is urbanising more and more. But the vitality of faith is still there. At home, in Europe, faith is about ideas. Here, faith is about life. Certainly, the wind of secularisation, which carries the seduction of wealth, is sweeping across the whole world. But in Europe, secularisation entails a struggle against the authority of the Church, which is not the case here.
With us, secularisation, if it aims at the acquisition of wealth, is neither against God nor against the Church. In a way, the Church is persecuted in Europe as well as in Vietnam. It is more difficult to be a bishop or a priest in Europe than in Vietnam! Here, if we are attacked, the community defends us. The Church is like a family of God. This family concept determines the relationships between people throughout life.
How do you see the future of vocations?
We still have many vocations, but we see some signs of decline, because of easier material life, the seduction of available wealth. But it is always the parish and the family that support vocations. In our culture, religion is part of a person’s and a family’s heritage.
You are rector of the brand-new Catholic Institute of Vietnam. What do you expect?
The Catholic Institute has been around for only three years. We began with about fifty students and today they number 120. It's a real challenge for us. it's about finding and training teachers, setting up a library ... It's a real need to express the Church’s maturity.
Of course, devotion is very strong in our Church, but we must also reflect on this vitality of the faith, deepen it, in order to also express faith as an idea ... but not like in Europe! After wars, communism, the time has come to develop what we have not developed before because every country is exposed to all sorts of currents of ideas.
We must encourage our priests and faithful to think more. Tradition alone is not enough. We must enter into dialogue with cultural movements, with contemporary cultural institutions, devote ourselves to research. Those involved in pastoral outreach do not have time to do that. Life has changed, our "pastoral faith" must change as well. We must be able to ask ourselves: why are we Catholics?