07/16/2013, 00.00
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Lay Catholics, witnesses in the footsteps of Vietnam’s missionaries and martyrs

by J.B. Vu
Despite difficulties and persecution, the faithful have contributed to the evangelization of the most remote and poorest areas of the nation. The Church of Vietnam is the fifth largest church in Asia. Between the 17th and the 19th century there were hundreds of thousands of martyrs, "the seeds of our hope."

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The development of the Vietnamese Church would be impossible without the testimony of the laity. This is the firm belief of Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, provincial superior of the Redemptorists in Vietnam. He told AsiaNews: "After 1975 [when South Vietnam was taken over by the Viet Cong - ed] we had many difficulties in our mission, but the number of Catholics has grown from year to year."

State control of priests and bishops did not allow them free movement in the country, and dampened the work of evangelization, but thanks to the laity the mission spread among the different ethnic groups (Montagnards). "They recognized - says Fr. Vincent - the importance and necessity of the commitment of the laity. Ethnic groups live in the forests, in remote and very poor areas. But we were able to carry out our mission. Even today there are mountains and vast forests, but the mission towards ethnic groups does not stop. "

According to official data, there are about 5.6 million Vietnamese Catholics, or 6.87% of the population, but unofficial estimates speak of a percentage around 10%. It is the fifth largest church in Asia, after the Philippines, India, China and Indonesia.

The first great missionary movement took place in the early seventeenth century by the Jesuit Alexandre De Rhodes, who gathered up to 6 thousand Catholics.

"Our local churches - continues Fr. Vincent - are indebted to the martyrs and the old missionaries, such as St. Andrea Phú Yên, a young man who worked with Fr. De Rhodes and built with him the first Christian communities in Vietnam. During that early period, the missionaries at the service of the population lived in great poverty. They studied the local culture, language, psychology of the Vietnamese people for their mission.  They did not discuss theological theories or sociology, but participated in the activities of the poor people with their daily lives, expressing love for one another".

The style of the past missionaries is also that of the present. At the end of 2012, the Vietnamese bishops, presenting their Church to the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences), said: "The lay faithful are very active in missionary work. They have cooperated with the pastors and religious in building up the Church, bringing the Good News to everyone with their way of life, their behavior and their work with others. "

From the 17th to the 19th century hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were killed because of their faith. But martyrs are also an inspiration for the mission. As the Cardinal of Ho Chi Minh City said on the feast of the martyrs, "today they are the seeds of our hope."


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