Phan Minh Man, talking to the Communists

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Card Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Mân, Archbishop of Hô Chi Minh City (Thàn-Phô Hô Chí Minh, ex Saigon), was born in 1934 in Hoa Thanh, and ordained priest in 1965.

Made coadjutor with the right of succession to Bishop Huyin Van Nghi in 1993, he was elevated to the rank of cardinal with titular church of St Justin in 2003.

He studied in the United States during the US involvement in the Vietnam War. He took from those years a profound loathing for war.

"From 1968 to 1971 I saw through the mass media the inhuman face of a war that was ravaging my country, a war that sowed pain and destruction, suffering and death. This explains why you won't find anyone among my people who believes that there is just war whatever reason to start it might be invoked to start it".

Following the reunification with the North in 1975 the Church in the south, which was used to operating in relative freedom, found itself at the receiving end of the Communist takeover: everything—Catholic seminaries, schools and private hospitals—was nationalised.

In this early period, Cardinal Pham, then a simple priest, was in charge training priests.

He remembers that from "1976 and 1981 I trained future priests in the diocese of Cân. In 1981-88, we sent seminarians to parish churches to complete their training with the help of priests and lay people, at least, from a pastoral point of view."

"Then in 1988, the government authorised the reopening of eight major seminaries around the country," he said, "and I was appointed as rector of the seminary in Cai Rang".

He has been criticised for being too open to the Communist regime to the point of quoting Marxist concepts to back his arguments.

In terms of reforming the country's religious laws, he has suggested going back to Hô Chi Minh's 1956 rules.

Cardinal Pham dismisses criticism, saying that "the Holy Father taught us to perform our duties through dialogue; to meet, talk and understand one another we must find some common ground".

In Vietnam, there are 8 million Catholics out of a population of 79 millions, which makes it proportionately the second largest Catholic community in Asia after the Philippines.