11/14/2006, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Mother Teresa's sisters waiting for Hanoi's official green light

by Nguyen Van Tranh
Sister Nirmala applied for a permit months ago. The sisters are present but only unofficially through a local congregation inspired by the Missionaries of Charity. Their work among the poor and in favour of orphans is officially not allowed but secretly appreciated.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Sister Marie Françoise Ha Thi Thanh Tinh said that the Vietnamese government is planning to invite to Vietnam the Missionaries of Charity (MoC) , the order founded by the blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata. She told AsiaNews that on June 9, Sister Nirmala, the current MoC superior, came to Hanoi to meet the government's Religious Affairs Committee. The religious sister was welcomed with open arms. Her hosts told her that the government was planning to invite the sisters to Vietnam to provide their services in the social and charity fields. "Compared to ten years ago, the Vietnamese government has made great strides," Sister Nirmala said. This was her first time in the country; she had already visited it in 1994 with Mother Teresa.

In Hanoi, Sister Nirmala presided over the ceremony that saw new sisters make "perpetual profession" to the Congregation of the Charity of Jesus, a female diocesan order inspired by the Sisters of Mother Teresa. She was accompanied by Sister Lysa, vicar general, and Sister Leon from the Hong Kong province.

Sister Marie Françoise Ha Thi Thanh Tinh also belongs to the Order of the Charity of Jesus founded in 1995 with the blessing of Mother Teresa and Mgr Nicholas Huynh Van Nghi, then bishop of Phan Thiet.

The new order was needed to manage all the new vocations born of Mother Teresa's witness at a time when it was impossible for her to set up a MoC house.

Vietnam has in fact banned all international religious orders whether for men or women, but has allowed local and diocesan orders to operate.

Mother Teresa's involvement in Vietnam went back quite a while. In 1973, when the country was still divided, she sent seven MoC brothers. They were welcomed by then bishop, Mgr. Nguyen Van Binh, who never the less had hoped that MoC sisters might come as well. But the war and Vietnam's unification brought that plan to and end.

In September 1991 Madre Teresa came to Hanoi where she met and asked government leaders for the permission to set up a MoC house for children and the poor.

Sister Marie Françoise still remembers that the "Labour, Veterans and Social Affairs Ministry sent eight sisters to work in Saigon's Tu Xuong neighbourhood and four other to work with disabled children in Thuy An, Ba Vi, Hung Hoa, in the north", but it did not grant the sisters the permit to open up their own MoC house and receive the growing number of women with a vocation. On that occasion, "Mother Teresa pointed out that 20 women were prepared to join and expressed her desire to send seven sisters to India for training."

She came back to Vietnam with Sister Nirmala in 1993 and then again in 1994 to renew her request to the government for a permit that would enable her order to accept and train the new vocations, but she got no answer.

Sister Nirmala was back in December 12, 1995, to ask again. Ten days later Mother Teresa got a letter saying that all the sisters should leave the country by the day after.

Concerned about educating the new sisters, Mother Teresa asked Mgr Huynh Van Nhi, bishop of Phan Thiet (and apostolic administrator in Saigon at the time) to set up a local congregation under the name of Order of the Charity of Jesus based on life and work, and inspired by the spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity.

Sister Marie Françoise remembers Mother Teresa speaking to the 30 sisters of the new order and telling them: "When my congregation will have a chance to come to Vietnam, you will be able to choose whether to join it or not. The mother house will always be prepared to welcome you".

Currently, the Charity of Jesus Congregation has 120 sisters, including 58 who have made perpetual profession, 23 novices and 40 postulants.

They work in various cities among the poor and the more marginalised like the sick, those living with ADIS, sexually-abused women.

Event though the government has officially banned all such activities, local authorities usually turn a blind eye in areas where the need is great and their ability to intervene is low.

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