06/07/2011, 00.00
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Vietnamese priest: my mission at the service of poor and atheists

by J.B. Vu
Fr. Vincent Peter Pham Van Khoi, 61, has proclaimed the Gospel in areas of the country where religion was banned. He united manual labour in the fields to social ministry, "to integrate the poorest communities." In a parish he has celebrated over 800 baptisms. And yesterday’s children "are willing to help in missionary work".

Vinh Long (AsiaNews) - Proclaiming the Gospel in the poorest areas of Vietnam, to promote social ministry in areas where religion was banned, along with the manual labour in the fields to collect food needed to feed themselves in times of greatest difficulty. This is the missionary life of Father Vincent Peter Pham Van Khoi, 61, currently vicar of the parish of Cau Ngang in the province of Tra Vinh, situated in the Mekong Delta region. He tells AsiaNews: "I was able to integrate the poorest communities through missionary work and by working with local representatives of the Communist Party."

1975 is a crucial date for the country, when it was united again after years of war under the umbrella of the Northern Vietnam Communist government. At the time Fr. Vincent was only 24 years of age and May 28 was sent to the parish of Long Hoa, to serve 250 faithful who did not even have a church. His missionary work among Catholics and non Catholics allowed him over the years to build a place of worship and to increase the Christian community. On October 10, 2007 he was transferred to the parish of Cau Ngang, also in the province of Tra Vinh to serve 1,700 Christians among a population of over 11 thousand people. The town is situated near the border with Cambodia, in a purely rural and agricultural area, where he spent five years in contact with the poor farmers and labourers.

Fr. Vincent promoted his pastoral activities, alongside manual labour in the fields, sharing the daily fatigue of the people and earning enough food to survive. A choice that allowed him to live happily in close contact with people. "It was a great opportunity – he tells AsiaNews - because through the pastoral care and work, I integrated within the community, promoting missionary work and worked with local representatives of the Communist Party."

The priest has worked in areas of Vietnam where the ideals of the revolution was widespread, in communities where religion was banned. In 1975 there were only 250 faithful, continues Fr Vincent, while in 2007 “I celebrated over 800 baptisms "of a total of 11 thousand people who lived in the parish of Long Hoa, located" near the sea, without even drinking water available. "

Between 1975 and 1987, during the period of state subsidies, the Vietnamese priest taught at least pre-school and elementary 100 children. Some of them came from Catholic families, but the majority were Buddhist or atheist, close to Communist Party members. Today, many of them are adults, some have become party officials at the local level, while others have achieved success in business. And they have returned to thank the parish priest and the church: "They want to help in missionary work," said Father Vincent Peter Pham Văn Khôi.

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