The diocese, which stretches along the border with China, has "the smallest number of faithful" in Vietnam’s Catholic Church, but has "huge" potential. Preaching the Gospel is not limited to the diocese, but can be done in association with the dioceses in nearby China.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The Diocese of Lạng Sơn-Cao Bằng covers 18,359 sq kms in the provinces of Lạng Sơn and Cao Bằng as well as the districts east of the Lô River in Hà Giang province, 800 km along the Vietnam-China border with Mgr Giuse (Joseph) Châu Ngọc Tri (pictured) as its bishop.
In 2017, its population of 1,769,385 included several ethnic groups. Ethnic Nùng and Tày represent 85 per cent, with Kinh (Vietnamese), Sao, Chinese, Sán Chay, H'Mong making up the remaining 15 per cent.
Currently, the diocese has more than 6,000 members, around 0.33 per cent of the area’s population. Most pf them are ethnic Kinh from lowland dioceses like Thái Bình, Bùi Chu, Phát Diệm, Hải Phong, Hanoi and Bắc Ninh, who, over time, came to the diocese to work or on business, involved mostly in farming, livestock, trade and crafts. There is little manufacturing and tourism is undeveloped.
Religious work has had to adapt to this new land to reach locals. This is one of the essential elements for evangelisation.
Most diocesan churches are in cities and with Catholics scattered across the provinces. So it is very difficult for parishes to organise pastoral activities for their members. As a result, mission centres are a way of providing pastoral care to the laity.
Years ago, there were few priests. Pastoral activities were very limited. Parishes faced many difficulties and scarce resources to teach catechism. Today, catechesis and outreach are centred on building the faith and on Sunday liturgy. Catholic groups and associations are becoming increasingly popular in parishes and mission centres.
Before 1990 there were very few vocations in Lạng Sơn-Cao Bằng. Most priests and religious came from other dioceses. Since the summer of 2017, the diocese has called for and organised the selection of candidates for the future diocesan clergy from other dioceses across the country. Consequently, pastoral activities have been diversified and given greater attention.
Parishes celebrate Mass daily. Mission centres often have Masses on Sundays. Hence, the sacramental life of the People of God is well cared for. Due to the small number of faithful, priests live very close and regularly visit their parishioners.
For their part, in addition to the parish pastoral council, parishioners are involved with six Catholic groups and associations providing pastoral activities, namely Legio Maria, Caritas, Parent groups, Hiền Mẫu (Gentle mother) groups, Đồng Tâm groups and active facilitators.
Parish-level liturgy boards include choir and traditional musical bands. There are only 20 catechists.
After the October 2017 mission conference, the Bishop's Office redrew parish boundaries to cover the entire territory. Now, everywhere a pastor takes care of believers. Since the renewal began, pastors and the People of God have been motivated to "go out" towards others to bring them the Good News.
Sister Mai, a member of the diocesan Caritas, told AsiaNews that "diocesan Caritas offers various activities. Its members pay particular attention to poor families, disabled children and people with HIV/AIDS.”
“This diocese,” she noted, “is also starting a programme to build houses for the poor, provide equipment for clean water, and organise playgrounds for teenagers and young people, etc. However, charity work is still limited because of poor and harsh conditions.”
Currently, the Diocese of Lạng Sơn-Cao Bằng has "the smallest number of faithful" in the Vietnamese Church. However, evangelisation has huge potential and is very much needed.
What is more, preaching the Gospel is not limited to the diocese, but can be done in association with the dioceses across the border in China. Therefore, whilst the missionary vision in the diocese must be very locally focused and unique, there is also great need for new missionaries for this "mountain diocese".
Since the diocese is huge with few priests, Bishop Giuse Châu Ngọc Tri needs many priests to serve the faithful in parishes and in missionary work. For this reason, he has invited everyone to continue working with their local Church to build an ever more important diocese.