03/12/2013, 00.00
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Card. Phạm Minh Mẫn: the blood of martyrs, the future of the Church of Vietnam (profile)

The Archbishop of Saigon is one of the 115 cardinal electors, in conclave to choose the successor to Benedict XVI. The cardinal witness the "miracle" of the faith in a country that "has stifled religious freedom." The defense of life against abortion and child abandonment. And the hope that in the near future, the Pope will visit Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - "The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith that God has continued to pour out into the country in many historical periods of difficulty and change. Not only the blood of the martyrs, but also the sweat and tears of Catholic families, communities and our ancestors. They all sacrificed themselves to serve God, the Church and society" in Vietnam. So says Card. Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Mẫn, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City (one of the 115 cardinals electors gathered today in the Sistine Chapel to choose a successor to Benedict XVI) who recounts the miracle of faith in a country led by a communist government that for decades has stifled religious freedom. Speaking to the faithful on the occasion of the celebration for the Vietnamese martyrs, on November 24 last, he stressed the profound value of the mission of God's word, in a reality where Catholics are a minority, often the victim of persecution, abuse and violence: "The aim is to bring the values ​​of the Gospel and the life human to the family, the social, economic and political spheres. This is the road we must take in the mission of the New Evangelization, and to accompany Jesus in the service of life and development of the human family "

Card. Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, was born March 5, 1934 in Ca Mau, in the diocese of Can Tho. From 1946 to 1954 he completed his secondary education at the minor seminary in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From 1954 to 1956 he was a student at the Major Seminary of St. Joseph in the former Saigon, where he studied philosophy. After a period devoted to teaching, he pursued theological studies between 1961 and 1965. Ordained on May 25, 1965 in the Cathedral of Can Tho, he initially worked as a teacher at the Minor Seminary Blessed Quy. In the most turbulent period in the recent history of the country, following the reunification with the North (1975) when power passed to Hanoi, with a restriction on the freedom of religion and anti-Christian persecutions, he still managed carry out his task of forming priests.

In 1988 the Communist government allowed six major seminaries to continue their activities one of which (the Holy Quy) was entrusted to the future cardinal where he was appointed rector. On 22 March 1993 Pope John Paul II appointed him coadjutor of My Tho, with his episcopal ordination taking place on 22 August.  He chose as his motto the phrase "As I have loved you." In 1996 he was able to make his first ever trip to Rome, on the "ad limina" visit of the Vietnamese bishops. On March 1, 1998 - after three years of vacant see - he was appointed to the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, where he became Metropolitan Archbishop, the following April 2. In the first five years he ordained 79 diocesan priests and 68 religious. Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal in the consistory of 21 October 2003 and he became a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Healthcare.

During his years as a professor and rector of Vietnamese seminaries, the cardinal understood the importance of spiritual formation for priests and lay people, on several occasions emphasizing the work of catechists, as "people who teach the faith" and participate "in the work construction of the Church. " "God sows his word - he said during a meeting with the faithful in Saigon - [... and] to cultivate the seeds we must pray, have fellowship, do charitable work like Jesus." Cardinal Pham Minh Mẫn then invited families to "renew and enlarge the communion in the Church of Christ" to "integrate ourselves as much as possible in the social context in which we live, to proclaim the Gospel."

The theme of proclamation is intrinsically linked to religious freedom, often termed by Benedict XVI as the very foundations of life and dignity for each individual. Religious liberty and relations with the Vietnamese authorities have often been the subject of speeches and position papers of the Cardinal of Saigon, in a perspective of growth of the Church and the faithful. He recalled that "since 2007 have no longer had to ask permission to welcome new candidates to the priesthood," and before "the seminary could accommodate 20 candidates every two years." However, the cardinal urges priests and laity to "abandon a mentality of self-defense" for fear of persecution or reprisals from the authorities and go out to meet "all members of society, Catholics and others, including the state."

At the same time, the Vietnamese prelate's committment to the struggle in defense of life and, in particular against abortions which he terms "a scourge that goes against the moral and cultural traditions of our people" and the abandonment of newborn infants. After years of efforts and appeals, the Cardinal of Saigon, in an interview with AsiaNews, said "the authorities are concerned about the problem and warned that this was leading us towards a disaster. Several Catholic organizations and have found different ways to help women not to resort to abortion. But now a new evil has appeared. We find more and more abandoned babies. There are religious and secular organizations that attempt to remedy the destructive consequence of a 'culture of death'. But we still need a general mobilization. All elements of society must work together, to look at a new way of life. "

Finally, the hope of a papal visit to Vietnam in the near future. The Cardinal of Saigon says he "expressed this hope at least twice, first to John Paul II. He asked me how the Communists and China looked at it. The second time I spoke to Pope Benedict XVI. I told him a visit would bring greater stability and hope. He raised his hands to heaven and asked me to pray and trust in the designs of Providence".  The conclave, which begins today, is the first step towards a possible future apostolic journey to the Asian nation.

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