Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The faithful in the Diocese of Phan Thiet in Binh Thuan province, southern Vietnam, will remember their bishop emeritus, Mgr Paul Nguyen Thanh Hoan, as a pastor faithful to his mission in service to the community, someone who cared for the poor, the sick, and underprivileged children. During his mission, he set up orphanages and schools and provided aid and funds to farmers. The prelate passed away on 18 August at the age of 74.
Over the years, Mgr Than Hoan promoted the values of "unity, mutual love, and care for the poor" not only in words but in "concrete actions" as well, putting lessons received into practice.
The Community of Charity and Social Services (CCSS) in Phan Thiet was one of the last examples of his social work. The facility is a social centre that, in collaboration with city authorities, helps 239 poor families by providing them - among other things - with small sums of money.
The prelate also invested capital in small local business projects, including growing plants used in traditional medicine, small pig farms, and small businesses that provide jobs and livelihood to more than 150,000 people.
Born on 11 November 1939 in Phi Loc parish, Nghe province An, which is part of the Diocese of Vinh, in the north of the country, following the territorial division between (Communist) North Vietnam and (pro-American) South Vietnam in 1954, he and his family moved south, to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), where he was ordained a priest.
In the early years of the mission, he was put in charge of the Đồng Hà section of the Society for Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) and was activate in various parishes in the Archdiocese of Hue.
In 1967, he was appointed as head of cultural and social programmes and set up a high school for poor students from rural areas and areas ravaged by war.
In 1968, with the intensification of the conflict, he founded an orphanage called "Family of the White Dove" as a sign of peace and hope for a future of unity and reconciliation in the country. By the summer of 1972, the facility hosted 345 orphans.
With the pressure of events, he led 300,000 children, students and families to Binh Tuy, in the province of Binh Thuan, in search of a safe haven.
Following the reunification of Vietnam in 1975 and the Communist takeover in South Vietnam, his orphanage and school were seized by the authorities. However, with the spirit of the Good Shepherd, he did not lose heart and decided to set up a parish, which he called, true to his mission, the "Parish of the White Dove".
Between 1978 and 1987, a time of economic crisis and US embargo, as well as conflict with China, the future bishop spent his physical and material resources helping the faithful, especially the poorest. He launched development projects, contributed to better farming techniques in many backward areas, and provided small amounts of money to farmers.
Lastly, he founded of the Community of Charity and Social Services (CCSS) to help men and women, religious and others, to nurture their spirituality and get to know the love of Jesus.
In 2001, he was appointed coadjutor of Phan Thiet, where he served as bishop from April 2005 to July 2009.
His work earned him recognition even from local Communist authorities and the Party leadership, who on 19 August paid tribute to his remains, burning some incense and reciting some "prayers" as well as participating in the mourning of the family and the whole Christian community.