Hanoi (AsiaNews/UCAN) - For the first time, the Vietnamese government has allowed Hanoi's St Joseph Major Seminary to recruit students on an annual basis, not every two years as it was before.
In Vietnam there are many vocations for the priesthood but the government has retained the right to set the number of candidates for seminaries. Some mean have thus had to wait decades before being admitted. Only the number of candidates set by the government has been permitted.
Now "St. Joseph Major Seminary is allowed to recruit students annually from this year onward. This is a good new for eight northern dioceses that lack priests," Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi said. However, Archbishop Kiet lamented that his seminary was unable to admit all 60 seminarians from the dioceses under its jurisdiction.
"It receives only about 50 as accommodation is unavailable," he explained, saying the seminary building currently houses 162 students, is overcrowded and has no empty rooms.
Archbishop Kiet said he borrowed a Salesian-run building in Conhue, 18 kilometres from the seminary, but the building can accommodate only 50 people.
"I do not know how to provide rooms for new students who will be accepted into the seminary next year," he said.
"We have asked the government for permission to build a new house so that we can receive students every year," he added.
According to Archbishop Kiet, the teaching staff "is enough temporarily", since the government ha authorised priests from other dioceses to teach at the seminary. "Nonetheless, the seminary lacks resident priests," he said, "especially spiritual directors."
Father Antoine Nguyen Ngoc Son, secretary of the Vietnamese Catholic Bishops' Conference, said on September 22 that the seminary in Hanoi is the first among Vietnam's six major seminaries to receive government permission to recruit students every year.
Altogether, some 928 seminarians were studying in the six seminaries in the last academic year.
Bishop Antoine Vu Huy Chuong of Hung Hoa, whose diocese borders China and Laos, welcomed the news.
"Annual recruitment by the Hanoi seminary will help meet the needs of Catholic communities in northern Vietnam that have no priest. Dioceses in central and southern Vietnam face a similar situation," added the prelate, who taught at the St Quy Major Seminary in Can Tho.
Church figures for 2004 list Hung Hoa diocese, the country's largest in terms of area, as having 30 priests and 198,000 Catholics.
Bishop Paul Cao Dinh Thuyen of Vinh said that the government's decision to authorise St Joseph's seminary to recruit on an annual basis was a step forward in its religious policies.
In August, Bishop Cao said that the Vinh Thanh Major Seminary, set up in 1988 for students from Vinh and Thanh Hoa dioceses, had recruited 40 seminarians this year despite the government two-year rule.
However, Card Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man said on September 18 that the government had still not allowed the establishment of an annex for St. Joseph Major Seminary in his archdiocese.
This issue was discussed during talks between top Vatican officials and the Vietnam government delegation that made a working visit to the Vatican June 27-July 2.
The Cardinal expressed hope that the government will approve the seminary annex planned for the seminarians in Xuan Loc diocese by next year. It would be the only way to accommodate all the seminarians from the six dioceses served by Ho Chi Minh City's seminary.