Living out and passing on the faith to future generations are central foci of the Holy Year to be celebrated in Vietnam, the president of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee announced. Sharing the same idea, 161 priests and deacons of three dioceses in North Vietnam discussed on challenges of their evangelization mission in the socio-economic context of Vietnam today.

Priests and deacons of dioceses of Bac Ninh, Thanh Hoa, and Phat Diem in their annual retreat
“One among various objectives in the Holy Year to be celebrated in Vietnam is living out our faith”, stated Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Saigon, the president of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee, in an interview published on VietCatholic News Nov. 7.

According to the cardinal, the high point of the jubilee of the Church in Vietnam will be “an assembly of various components of God's people” organized on the model of a synod of bishops in the Archdiocese of Saigon from Nov. 22-25, 2010. The ultimate goal of the “synod” is to figure out “what need to be done to strengthen and bear witness to our faith, transmit it to our neighbors, and pass it on to future generations,” Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham continued.

“Evangelization and education in the faith for children” have been hot topics drawing great attentions of many Catholics in Vietnam in the wake of dazing and profound changes in the socio-economic context of Vietnam today.

161 priests and deacons of dioceses of Bac Ninh, Thanh Hoa, and Phat Diem gathering at the Bishop Office of Phat Diem for their annual retreat shared the same concerns with the cardinal. They debated on how to carry out their duties of evangelical mission more effectively, and discussed on different missionary strategies in the Holy Year. Especially, in the context of the Year for Priests, Bishop Cosma Hoang Van Dat of Bac Ninh presented a topic on challenges and risks of the religious life in a society where widespread unbelief, invasive secularism, and the hostility toward Gospel’s values keep obstructing real religious growth.

Recent statistical figures have shown that although Catholicism is relatively widespread in Vietnam and the Church has a strong corps of devoted lay activists, in recent decades the growth of country's Catholic population has lagged significantly behind the overall population growth. The Catholic population in 2007 was 6,087,700 among 85,154,900 people, or a rate at about 7.15% of national population. This indicates a decline in number of registered Catholics comparing to 7.2 % in 1933 or 7.5% in 1939.

Government oppression of the Church is often quoted as the main reason for the decline of the Catholic population. In many remote areas of the Central Highlands and in northern mountainous provinces, pastoral activities are hindered by governmental bureaucracy and on-going mistreatments. In these areas, missionary activity has often been described as an “offense against national security,” and the local officials have made no effort to hide their hostility toward the Church's efforts.

Anti-religious legislation endeavors, and in particular, a persistent propaganda campaign against the Church at all levels of education have caused hindrance in education in the faith, and made young people confused about the real purpose of Catholic activity, and discouraged them from showing their Catholic identity.

However, “it’s a grave mistake to blame everything on the communists,” said Marie Nguyen Thi Dau a retired Mathematics teacher in Vinh diocese.

“Passing on the faith to our children is first of all the duty of each and every Catholic family, the ‘domestic Church’ as called by the Second Vatican Council. For decades, my parish had lived through many rounds of persecution. We did not have any priest. But the world of religion was still familiar to me as prayer was an integral part of my family. We would pray every morning and every night and my mum kept telling tell me about the lives of saints and good examples they had set. And when I got sick, my grand mum would tell me to offer my pain up for Jesus,” she explained.

“Also, little tidbits of devotional practices outside the household helped me to grow in faith, too,” she continued. “A Catholic bus driver would make a sign of cross before setting out on his route. Peasants on the way to their fields paused and prayed in front of the old parish church even it had been seized and turned into a State factory. And every night my village would be buzzing with the Rosary.”

“Nowadays, in this luxurious city where one can attend formal doctrines and dogmas courses without being troubled with police, for years I have not seen a family singing the Rosary together, nor a bus driver making the cross,” Dau, now living in Saigon with her son, complained, noting that secularism should not be considered less dangerous than communism.

In their letter sent to priests, religious, and faithful declaring the Holy Year, Vietnamese bishops stated that the Jubilee "is a propitious time for a retrospective look at the objective to thank God, to learn the lessons of history, to debate the present situation of the Church, and to look at the future with the determination to construct a Church that discerns and obeys the will of God.”