06/17/2009, 00.00
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Vietnamese Catholics want to fully participate in their country’s development

by J.B. Vu
Cardinal Phạm Minh Mẫn stresses how the economic development that followed the decision to open Vietnam’s economy to market forces has had negative consequences. These include a rural exodus and the decline of traditional moral values, partly as a result of the arrogance of those in power and a lack of preparation.
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Government policy in Vietnam has prevented religious groups from playing a role in its “social policy” and in education. This has been the case in North Vietnam since 1945 and in the south since 1975, after South Vietnam was overrun by Communist forces. Except for kindergarten religious organisations can do nothing. Yet despite such limitations, families and parishes have been able to pass onto young people positive values and ideals about life in relation to justice, humanity, what is good and the truth.

In a place like Ho Chi Minh City religion-based social organisations have been able to set up many “compassionate classes” with scholarships for poor students. They have also helped disabled children and children living in especially difficult situations. 

Young volunteers from local parishes have taught catechism whilst more broadly Catholics have become involved in social and pastoral activities. In cooperation with parishes and international NGOs, many socially-valuable projects have been supported by lay Catholics.

In their own distinct way all of them have contributed to a mission of love and service to society. Their pastoral and educational action and our local Churches have thus been able to reduce for example family violence. This means that believers have a right and a duty to participate in building their families, communities and country.

At the present time even positive economic development has had its load of negative social consequences, Card Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn, archbishop of Saigon, said.

Since the year 1975, Vietnam has had to overcome the consequences of long years of war, not merely at the material level but also at the human level: over one million injured soldiers, two million orphans, over five million handicapped persons and two million widows. At the same time, Vietnam has tried to break out its isolation in order to enter a global world and speed up its progress,” the cardinal said.

In the last decade, with the transition from a centrally-planned economy to a market one, economic life has considerably developed. This development, however, has fallen short in terms of equality, integrity and stability. Such a development—plus an autocracy that is arrogant and lacks the necessary experience and preparation—has had many negative impacts on society: large-scale internal migration of millions of families and young people, a fast growing gap between the rich and the poor, a sharp decline in morality in favour of an individualistic and hedonistic way of life, and all kinds of social evils like lying, corruption, violence, abortion, divorce, prostitution, women and child trafficking, drug abuse and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. All these negative consequences have undermined basic values that sustained family life and its moral tradition and the nation’s cultural traditions. At the same time, they have contributed to a culture of death against a culture of life and a civilization of love which is the true path that can lead us to a life of abundance and everlasting happiness.”

“For historical and ideological reasons, Vietnamese authorities in the last few decades have had a negative attitude toward religion in general. This explains the difficulties and restrictions imposed on religious activities. After we began moving to a market economy, the situation improved. The Catholic Church is no longer viewed as a force opposed to the Communist government, but it is seen rather as an interlocutor with whom to build and develop the country. The January 25, 2007 meeting between Vietnam’s prime minister and the Pope was a sign announcing the good have expressed their good will to serve the people of Vietnam and people of God in Vietnam and protect their dignity. However, there are still a number of restrictions, especially with regards to the Church’s involvement in social fields such as education and health care.”

“The Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church highlights the values that lay the foundation for a stable human community; these are truth and justice, brotherhood and solidarity, charity and peace in our local church.”

Such values must become the standard for an overall education directed at people in all areas of life: family, school, society. Without such overall education, moral conscience could turn into something aberrant.”

“If human beings, who are endowed with basic rights and dignity, are not at the heart of balanced development, they could be turned into instruments for material production and the selfish ambitions of the powerful and wealthy in society”.

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