01/27/2016, 17.45
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Vietnam’s newest theological institute kicks off courses in September

Students can apply before 5 July for admission test to either biblical or dogmatic theology. Preparations for the new facility are well underway. This is unusual in a Communist nation where Church educational activities have always been hampered.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/ÉDA) – In a statement on 21 January, the Bishops’ Commission for Education announced that classes will begin next September at Vietnam’s new theological institute in Ho Chi Minh City’s Third District, at 72/12 Tran Quoc Toan Street. Hence, future students can begin to apply, this according to Églises d'Asie (EDA).

Following the initial evaluation of applicants’ ability to pursue their studies, those who meet entry requirements can expect to graduate in either biblical or dogmatic theology. In fact, the programme for the 2016-2017 school year includes courses geared toward a full degree based. The deadline for the admission test is 5 July.

The requirements set by the commission for application to either programme include a letter of presentation from a bishop or the superior general of the applicant’s congregation of reference, an undergraduate degree in theology, or evidence of having studied philosophy and theology in a major seminary or religious institution.

Since Mgr Paul Bui Van Doc, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, announced the institute’s creation back in August, preparations to open it have been proceeding smoothly, and the 12-month deadline will be met.

Although this is not something new in Vietnam’s history, the opening of a new Catholic educational  facility is a positive if surprising development in a country whose Communist rulers have always been reticent vis-à-vis the Church’s educational initiatives.

Before the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975, Vietnam had a pontifical college and other Catholic institutions of higher learning. After reunification, Communist authorities seized them.

At the same time, Saigon University and Dalat University, both located in southern Vietnam, stopped offering theology courses.

In the case of the former Pontifical College in Dalat, government and Church authorities are still at loggerheads; and it is still unclear whether the structure will be returned or not. As such, this case is not unique. Many Church assets and properties remain a bone of contention between Church and state.

Vietnam's 87 million people include 48 per cent Buddhists, more than 7 per cent Catholics, 5.6 per cent syncretistic and 20 per cent atheist.

As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

Conversely, religious freedom has steadily eroded in recent years. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, boosting the power of the Communist Party and the one-party state.

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