05/14/2008, 00.00
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The Church, the difficult integration of ethnic minorities and Vietnam's fast paced economic growth

by Nguyen Hung
Some 54 ethnic groups are recognised but ethnic Kinh represent 84 per cent of the total. In the highlands, local ethnic minorities have found refuge in the forests to escape exploitation. Now the government has to decide whether to exploit them or try to forge a common path to development. Over the centuries the Church has played an important role.

Kontum (AsiaNews) – Today’s Vietnam, a country of rapid economic growth, is home to 54 different ethnic groups, including the Kinh who alone represent 84.21 per cent of the total. Under such circumstances maintaining diversity becomes a challenge and religion can provide decisive help.

In this multiethnic mosaic religion has always been important, helping the various population groups to communicate and better understand each other, and together, contributing to the development of the country’s many regions. The Latin that came with French Christian missionaries in the 19th century also played a pivotal role in the development of the national language.

In the diocese of Kontum Christianity arrived in 1838. Locals from ethnic minorities and majority Kinh experienced persecution under the old feudal system but held fast to their faith.

Father Son, a local parish priest, told AsiaNews that “the population in the area is growing. The area is also undergoing economic, social and technical growth. The highlands, i.e. the provinces of Kontum, Pleku and Daklak, are heavily populated and resource-rich.

As far back as French rule governments have tried to control and exploit these areas. Ethnic minorities have been pushed further into the forests. Now the government is trying to exploit these resources and establish a relationship with these people. There are however people with money who are trying only to flatter and cheat them.”

The Catholic Church has always been concerned with the development of these people and has “brought education and taught cultivation methods to the members of ethnic minorities in Kontum and Pleku” as a study of the highlands’ socioeconomic situation shows.

“Missionary priests conduct Mass in the local language and encourage locals to dress in traditional ways.” This is important, Father Tin points out, because “dressing in traditional fashion makes locals feel more secure. For them it is important to show their culture and art, including working in their traditional dress, this despite the fact that as minorities they are discriminated by the majority in every field like the economy, education, politics or culture.”

In this sense since it was legalised by the National Assembly in 1992 religion plays an important role. It would be important though for local authorities to actually try to implement this policy.

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