Da Lat (AsiaNews) - Authorities in Da Lat, southern Vietnam, are knocking down the Pontifical Institute of St. Pius X in Da Lat to make a "cultural and urban park". And despite the repeated requests made by the bishops of the country for its return for use as a seminary in what was a property of the Vatican's representative in Vietnam, where some 13 bishops and 306 priests currently operating in the country graduated from.
The Institute opened its doors to its first class September 13, 1958. It was built by Jesuit Father Ferdinand Lacretelle, who arrived in Saigon in 1957, at the request of the Vietnamese bishops and the Vatican entrusted it to the Society of Jesus. It was managed by religious from France, Italy, Spain and Canada.
On August 1961, Ambassador Mario Brini laid the foundation stone for the reconstruction of the structure and Msgr. Francesco De Nittis, representing the nuncio, organized its inauguration April 23, 1964. On 21 September of that year, a decree (604BCTNG/ND/HC.TC. 3) of the government of then South Vietnam guaranteed "the perpetual title of the plot No 54, page 20 of Dalat City, an area of 79,200 square meters to the Vatican Consulate”.
Until 1975, the Institute gathered seminarians from the Diocese of the South, resulting in the formation of 14 bishops. With the exception of Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nho, who has since died, the others are still working for the Vietnamese Church. With them 306 priests, 227 diocesan and 79 religious were formed in the St. Pius X institute. In the political situation created after 1975, the Pontifical Institute ceased its training activities in the summer of 1977 and in 1980 the government took it from the Conference of Bishops.
In 1987, the Vietnamese government opened the door to a market economy and, step by step, the country has entered a period of renewal and integration with the rest of the world. At the same time, the Vietnamese Church has found itself with a shortage of priests to send to the parishes. So the bishops have asked the government for the return of the Pontifical Institute for the chance to give a high quality formation to priests. Since then, whenever given the opportunity, the Episcopal Conference and the Diocese of Da Lat have renewed its request.
At present, however, local authorities are knocking down the Institute. The Bishop of Da Lat (pictured), who is president of the Episcopal Conference, has once again made a plea for the need of the Church. "When - said Msgr. Nguyen Van Nhon - I saw that in the are of the Pontifical Institute was being transformed into a park, on November 22, 2008, on behalf of the episcopate, the office of Bishop of Da Lat sent a petition to the authorities of the province of Lam Dong to stop the work. In response, we received a letter (8860/UBND-DC) from the provincial People's Committee, alleging that the diocese should have given its’ support to the construction of the park”.
The bishop turned to the authorities of Da Lat informing them that "on behalf of the Vietnamese biushops, December 19, 2008 I sent a message to the head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs to present the Church's needs and informing them of the petition of 22 November”.
"Recently - says the bishop - when I saw a large building under construction in the Pontifical Institute of St. Pius X, on behalf of the Episcopal Conference, on 11 February this year, I appealed to the Prime Minister and senior authorities of the province Lam Dong to ask them to reconsider the aspirations of the Episcopal conference, to be able to use the structure for the formation of priests". "Following the instructions of the leaders of the Episcopal Conference and the three archbishops of Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City - he concludes - we will continue to submit to the Prime Minister the really pressing aspirations of the Catholic Church in Vietnam".