04/29/2011, 00.00
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Vietnamese bishops see challenges not only from 'outside'

by Paul N. Hung
The annual meeting of the Conference of Bishops concludes today. For the first time a "non-resident representative of the Holy See” is present, to which intellectuals and ordinary believers look to solve the problems of a church that sees growth of both the baptized and the authorities attempts to "safeguard".

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The development of a common pastoral letter to all Catholics in Vietnam, a  model for the formation for priests and seminarians, preparation for the conference of Asian bishops, to be held in Ho Chi Minh City, the reconstruction of National Marian Shrine of La Vang, expectations for the beatification of Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte and Francois Pallu and the choice of delegates to the synod of bishops on the new evangelization were the central topics of the annual meeting of the bishops of Vietnam (see photo), held at the pastoral center of the diocese of Saigon from April 24 to today.

The meeting was attended by all heads of 26 dioceses in the country and, for the first time, the non-resident representative of the Holy See, Mgr. Leopoldo Girelli. He recalled that he is "not a nuncio, as the country does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican," and emphasized his role as a link between the Holy See and the local Church.

But among all the activities, what is the real purpose of the shepherds? To serve the people of God, that all bishops and cardinals are to pray, to be joined together to build the community and listen to the people of God to build the Church. "I hope - he said - to be an instrument of brotherhood among the local priests, religious and lay people and the people of Vietnam".

A recent survey of one hundred Catholic intellectuals and hundreds of lay has shown that many consider " the conference of bishops non-essential. They listen to the diocesan reports, clapping one another on the back. "They worry about the 'monumental activities' (Hoat Hoanh đồng trang), but are incapable of concerning themselves with the laity, the poor, the suffering of the population, with abandoned children, marginalized communities and the injustice that is rampant in their areas."

The survey also shows the diminished confidence of Catholics in leaders of the Episcopal Conference, who "say nice words, but are not to the people of God." "Those who have responsibility - says Kieu Trinh, a young woman from the archdiocese - should respond to the responsibility that God has entrusted to them. One can not work for two masters. When you die, in front of the holy face of God, how will they answer His questions? ".

"The Church of Vietnam - some faithful tell AsiaNews – has really important issues. There are many reactions in public opinion, so many cries for help, but some local church leaders have not yet given attention to these major issues: the apparent phenomenon of pastors who work for two masters. " That's why hundreds of thousands of faithful and Catholic intellectuals say "the flock needs a true shepherd" and that "the flock does not need a part-time pastor".

In fact, there are Catholic intellectuals and "ordinary" believers who have the belief that "if it happens that the Holy See does not meet the wishes of some shepherds, they will certainly be 'protected' by the authorities. They can 'nương nau' (take the envelope), retain their positions in the Church and run the formal business, even in the absence of moral depth. " "The presence of Mgr. Girelli - some Catholics of Ho Chi Minh City told AsiaNews - is particularly important at this time for Vietnamese Church. The Holy Father Benedict XVI sent him and it is the first time that this has happened in 36 years since 1975. "

The assembly of bishops was also an opportunity to listen to the situation of the diocese. It was found that, while there are many conversions, the Church is still facing difficult challenges. In vast areas of Central Highlands and northern provinces near the borders with China and Laos, the faithful are still not allowed to meet to pray, while the priests are still prevented from celebrating the Eucharist and carrying out their pastoral ministry.

The situation of what happened to Mgr. Michael Hoang Duc Oanh has been highlighted in particular, who, having finally managed to celebrate Easter Mass in Lang Son, had to do it in the hostile presence of police and women of the Communist League who outnumbered the faithful and who controlled and mocked both bishop and Catholics. In other areas, priests and faithful who have petitions to celebrate Mass, see their religious freedom subject to the irrational mood swings of local authorities.

This proves that "the legal status of the Church is still not recognized" and that there is the hostility of local authorities against Catholics, which sometimes arrives at forms of open persecution.

(J. B. Dang An collaborated)
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