Marking the 55th Anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis on April 22, 2018, ordained 16 men to the priesthood in St. Peter’s Basilica. Among them, there was a Vietnamese seminarian, Paul Đỗ Văn Tân of the Rome’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary.
The news brought great joy to Vietnamese around the world.
In an interview on this anniversary, Bishop Anthony Vũ Huy Chương of Dalat, the Chairman of The Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference praises Vatican and Pontifical Mission Societies around the world help the Church in Vietnam to greatly improve the quality of priestly formation in recent decades.
Bishop Chương has overseen the committee for 14 years since 2014. Recently, the committee was reinforced with a Vice-Chairman, Bishop Joseph Đỗ Mạnh Hùng, the apostolic administrator sede vacante of Saigon. The committee assists bishops, both collectively and individually, in promoting, supporting, and educating about the Church's pastoral needs and concerns for the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life within the various sociocultural contexts of Vietnam.
Through biannual conferences, the committee has provided a highly valued resource to support the network of Catholic seminaries in Vietnam, charged with responsibility for the formation of priests.
For decades, recruitment of seminarians had been severely restricted; only a certain number might be enrolled in the diocesan seminaries each year, and candidates and even their families were subjected to scrutiny. This led to secret formation for priesthood and “underground” ordinations. Things have been improved. “Now, restrictions on the recruitment of seminarians have ended. The only restriction we are facing now is the capacity of Major Seminaries,” said Bishop Chương.
“Currently we have 7 Major Seminaries in Hà Nội, Vinh, Huế, Nha Trang, Sàigòn, Xuân Lộc, Cần Thơ. In the academic year of 2017-2018, there are 2650 major seminarians,” he added.
Talking about the trend in vocations, the prelate observed that “Declining birth rate and the rise of secularism cause a reduction of vocations in Vietnam. The drop can be seen evidently in metropolitan parishes. Parishes in remote areas seem to be fine.”
However, Bishop Chương believes that in terms of quality, various aspects of priestly formation have been greatly improved with the help of Vatican congregations and Pontifical Mission Societies around the world, the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) in particular.
Finally, Bishop Chương announced that funded by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, his committee with the help of The Catholic University of Paris and the Paris Foreign Missions Society will organise a conference for hundreds of seminary formators from July 1 to July 14, 2018.