Some 275,000 and 300,000 pregnancies are terminated each year, according to official figures. However, the real number is much higher; between 1.2 and 1.6 million if illegal abortions are counted. Teenagers represent 20 per cent of all pregnant women who abort. In 20 years, a Catholic man has buried over 20,000 foetuses and saved hundreds of children.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – For Vietnamese Catholics, protecting each life and warning young people against death practices like abortion is a mission that requires increasingly urgent action.
According to data provided by international health agencies, Vietnam ranks first in Asia in terms of abortion, fifth worldwide.
One major concern for the Church is that high abortion rate among teenagers, who represent 20 per cent of all women who terminate their pregnancy.
According to government figures, some 275-300,000 abortions are performed each year; however, pro-life groups put the number much higher, anywhere between 1.2 and 1.6 million when illegal abortions are factored in.
Although the Health Ministry guidelines allow abortions in the first six weeks, in certain clinics and medical facilities, the operation is carried out on foetuses up to ten weeks.
Doctors at the Central Obstetrics Hospital in Hanoi claim that 40 per cent of pregnant women abort their babies.
The Redemptorist Fathers have been engaged in "life protection programmes" for years, trying to educate teenagers and young people on the irreversible damage that results from abortion.
Priests, religious and lay people take part in intensive catechism sessions, involving young people in social and charity activities.
Doctors and experts provide young people with psychological support through visits and outreach sessions.
Since 2009, many pro-life groups associated with the diocesan Caritas have set up abortion prevention programmes.
The work consists of promoting the Church's teachings on family and couple life, as well as burying aborted foetuses in so-called angel gardens, found in many Catholic communities across the country, where the latter are offered a dignified burial (picture 1).
In Li Lãm and Ngọc Lâm, two parishes in the northern Diocese of Bắc Ninh, the faithful have buried 6,000 to 8,000 unborn children respectively. Every year lay people, students and members of the diocese visit the two parishes to pray and celebrate Mass in their memory.
During a service celebrated earlier this month, Bishop Cosma Hoàng Văn Đạt of Bắc Ninh said: “These children had the right to live, but their parents killed them mercilessly. People like that prevented thousands of births. Murder is a serious crime, but killing an unborn child is much more.”
Thankfully, there are people like Tống Phước Phúc (picture 2, video) whose story is well-known among Vietnamese Catholics.
A retired carpenter in Phương Sài, a district in Nha Trang (on the southern coast), Phúc, together with his wife, he has buried 20,000 foetuses in 20 years and has opening a shelter for unwanted children, saving over a hundred of them from abortion.
He also built a cemetery for foetuses in the municipality of Diên Lâm, on a hill, about 19 kilometres from the city centre.
“I don't know the fathers and mothers of these children. But when I make the graves, I name them after the saints. Some already have a name chosen by their parents, Catholic and non-Catholic.
“When I started this service, many people were suspicious. 'Mr Phúc, what drives a carpenter to go around and ask for the remains of these children? Some asked me. I told them: 'I take them home to bury them.’”
Over time, “my neighbours and my community started to understand my work. Many Catholics and people of other religions have participated in my project to protect life. Some have given me sand, other bricks; all eagerly.”
One particularly poignant incident led Phúc to see what he was doing was not enough. “One afternoon, when I buried the 247th foetus, a student approached me and asked me: 'Did you bury my baby yesterday?' So I took her to the grave. I said to myself: ‘if I limit myself to burials, how can I save lives? I have to do more.”
In 15 years, Phúc and his wife have helped more than 250 women in difficulty, convincing them not to have an abortion. The couple's family members have adopted more than 50 children.
Sometimes, Phúc had so many children to care for that he had to ask for help from a shelter in Cam Ranh City, Khánh Hòa province.