North Vietnam: a diocese "saved" by prayer
by Nguyen Van Tranh

In Bac Ninh, Catholics survived for decades without priests who had fled communism. But lay people kept prayer alive. Today efforts are under way to transmit its value and importance to youth through an original initiative.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Decades without priests, who were on the run from the Communist north, did not prevent the diocese of Bac Ninh in Vietnam from keeping its faith alive. Lay people pressed ahead with common prayers despite a thousand difficulties. Thanks to their perseverance, this community saw the dawn of the Vietnamese church, which now has more than 123,000 believers, 27 priests and 299 sisters, out of a population of more than six million. But the most encouraging statistic lies in more than 4,500 youth who attend catechism classes.

The central place occupied by prayer in this diocese prompted its leaders to hold a very special sort of competition among youth, now known as the "exam of Catholic prayer". Since 1990, every two years, teenagers of the community come together with their teachers for some days to undergo an exam on the subject. This year, from 31 July to 31 August, a total of 4,574 youth, aged between 14 and 18, came to the bishop's residence of Bac Ninh from the districts of Dong Chuong, Vinh Phu, Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Gia Luong and Bac Ninh. They were accompanied by lay leaders from the different parishes.

Apart from exams on prayers, candidates answered questions on the text of a letter by the Vietnamese bishops' conference entitled "Living with the Word of God". Members of the exam committee were sisters and seminarians of the diocese. In general, the youth fared well in the tests and those who passed obtained a "Bang Thi Kinh" diploma (prayer book exam). Those who passed with the best results got a Bible too.

After the great 1954 migration from the Communist north to the south of Vietnam, for years, most of the parishes had no priests to say mass or to teach catechism to children. Lay people however persisted in praying, organizing meetings in the early morning or at night.