Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/EDA) - Vietnamese Jesuits are planning to start the Holy Year, on 18 January, to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries in the Asian country. On 18 January 1615, the first members of the Society of Jesus reached Vietnam on ships that docked in the port of Hoi An as part of a delegation of Japanese Christians who had fled their homeland because of an ongoing campaign of persecution against them.
Although not the first missionaries in the country - others had already brought the message of the Gospel to the country - the Jesuits' arrival was a milestone in the history of Vietnam's evangelisation. In order to honour the event, the local chapter of the Society of Jesus is sponsoring a number of activities, including a webpage listing all the events that will take place during the yearlong celebration. The first will be a solemn Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Saigon by Mgr Paul Bui Von Doc.
One of the first aims of the Holy Year will be to foster spiritual renewal of the members of the Society, and all those who have adopted the charism of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The goal will be to strengthen the missionary spirit in the country and help Christians know (and teach) the history of evangelisation in Vietnam and the contribution of Christianity to its development. Jesuit missionaries settled in the country gradually, starting in January 1615. The first two members of the Society to set foot in Vietnam were Fr François Busomi and Fr Diego Carvalho, accompanied by three Japanese Christians. Other Jesuits followed, making a great contribution in the fields of religion and culture.
One of them, Alexandre de Rhodes, developed the existing writing system of the Vietnamese language (Quoc Ngu) and drafted a version of the catechism for Vietnamese Catholics. Vietnam has a population of 87 million, 48 per cent Buddhists, more than 7 per cent Catholics, 5.6 per cent syncretistic in their religious practice and 20 per cent atheist. As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs. Conversely, religious freedom has been steadily eroded. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, increasingly subordinated to the Communist Party and the one-party state.