Fr. Pascal Nguyễn Ngọc Tỉnh, OFM, a biblical scholar living in Saigon, is the leader of the translating team “Liturgy of the Hours” which has for decades dedicated itself in a great effort to translate the Bible and Roman Missals into Vietnamese.

Cain, where is your brother?

Uneasy feeling

The Holy See has finally announced the appointment of Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, the President of Episcopal Conference of Vietnam as Coadjutor Archbishop of Hanoi with the right of succession.

The imminent replacement of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet is now just a matter of time. Anyone constantly reading Church news online in recent months would have been psychologically prepared for the event, thus saying that the move comes as a surprise wouldn't be accurate. I, however, still have felt something smothery and bitter in my throat.

I recall the image of a T54 tank striking the gate of the Independence Palace in Saigon 35 years ago. Today, I have the reminiscent feeling of the same kind of tank striking the gate of the Hanoi Archbishopric.

I’d like to share some of my thoughts from the event just being announced by the Holy See.

"Due to health reason"

It has become clear now that Archbishop Kiet has turned in his resignation to the Holy See due to "health reason". He reportedly has been suffering from chronic insomnia, which subsequently led to asthenia. And when one realizes that his physical and mental health is no longer fit for carrying out his strenuous duty, under extreme condition and circumstances, then resignation would be a reasonable thing for a responsible person to do.

However, anyone with concerns would face this question:"His asthenia was caused by insomnia. But where did his insomnia come from?"

In celebration of Hanoi's 1000th birthday, I think this would have been the most valuable gift the government can receive from the Catholic Church. I think about Herod's birthday party in which the gift presented to him was nothing other than John the Baptist's head (Mc 6, 27)It seems no one needs to be reminded that in the past, in his years of serving as bishop of Lang Son, an immense diocese without a diocesan office, the prelate roamed the vast area, from parish to parish to carry out his duty. He was the only man for everything, tirelessly and passionately assumed all duties from being the pastor to the director of the choir, and even the Church bell ringer. When he was appointed Hanoi archbishop in 2005, health was still not an issue. When the Hanoi's Nunciature and Thai Ha parish event took place, one could easily guess how stressful it was for him to endure during this difficult time. He, however, had shown no sign of any health problem. In the video clip featuring the meeting between the Archbishop of Hanoi and the city officials at the office of the People's Committee in Hanoi on Sep. 21, 2010, Msgr. Kiet appeared to be youthful, vibrant, and full of dynamics, who eloquently spoke with self confidence when his turns came. At that meeting, it was he who forcefully made this historical statement: "Freedom for religion is a right, not a privilege". In a normal society, this statement would make nothing out of the ordinary for anyone to pay attention to, but in a dictatorial, totalitarian regime, it had the effect of a bomb. And it was the trigger which ticked Hanoi off, forcing them to find all possible ways to bring down the man who had the gut to challenge their power.

To be removed from Hanoi area.

Archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kiệt
Immediately following Archbishop statement's came a campaign designed to destroy his reputation via the Hanoi controlled media outlets, with its peak was the attack at the St. Geraldo chapel on the night of Sep. 21, 2010, when a group of hooligans, being called respectfully by the State media as "People for spontaneous actions", sabotaged the premise, shouting out for "Archbishop Kiet's head". What happened next was a more civilized action in the form of an official letter from the Chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee (CHPC) to Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon – the President of the Vietnamese Bishop's Conference. In his letter, the city chairman accused Msgr. Kiet of causing social disturbance calling for the removal of the prelate from Hanoi area. Days after, the Conference's President had issued a response.

But, the Conference's response letter itself was a surprise.

The same refutation against the "ask and be given mechanism".

I would like to focus on the fact that until now, few (if not any one) has discussed about the similarity between Msgr. Kiet's statement and the 2002 Episcopal Conference’s Open Letter to the Vietnam's congress, which basically contained the same bishops’ refutation against the "ask and be given mechanism”. Reading this Open Letter gives us the impression of being struck by an asteroid from the sky, since opposing the “ask and be given mechanism” when living in a dictatorial regime amounts to a declaration of war! From the heart of Saigon, Cardinal Pham Minh Man formally sent this document to “The Fourth Assembly of the Vietnamese Catholics in Construction and Defense of the Country", then later to the Chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front in Ho Chi Minh City. So when speaking against the said mechanism, Msgr. Kiet did nothing other than to reiterate the position of the Episcopal Conference expressed in its 2002 Open Letter. Therefore, in its response letter to the Chairman of the CHPC, the Episcopal Conference should have been clearly stated that when opposing the "ask and be given mechanism”, Archbishop Kiet had precisely reflected the position of the Episcopal Conference, and it would be strongly supporting the Archbishop's statement.

But this has never happened.

Is the 2002 Open Letter still valid?

Mentioning this letter, in retrospect, I humbly think the Episcopal Conference needs to clarify to the public, whether it is still holding to the same position which is to oppose the "ask and be given mechanism” as clearly stated in its 2002 Open Letter? If it is, why has it not been publicly supporting Archbishop Kiet? If not, has its position been a wrongful one? And in which part has its position been wrongful?

Being alone and isolated

Going back to the President of Episcopal Conference's response letter to the Chairman of the CHPC, which was attached to the "Viewpoint of the Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops toward Current Issues", one can easily recognize where Archbishop Kiet stands among the bishops in the conference. To the accusations of the Chairman of the CHPC, the Episcopal Conference confirmed: "Archbishop Kiet has done nothing against the Church's policy". But during the time of the Hanoi Nunciature - Thai Ha incidents when the Hanoi archbishop was advocating for peace and justice, the event was referred in the Episcopal Conference's official letter as "the protest to reclaim property". This very letter drew a line, with the Archbishop of Hanoi on one side, and the rest of the bishops in the Episcopal Conference on the other. Reading this letter, we can see how lonely and isolated Msgr. Kiet must have felt among the brotherhood of bishops. To me, this is the cause of his insomnia which subsequently led to asthenia. The prelate finally asked for resignation from his post as Archbishop of Hanoi. And now with the coadjutor bishop, with right to succession, is in place the replacement is not so far away.

In the wake of the anticipated replacement at the Hanoi Archbishopric, no one would be feeling as ecstatic as the Hanoi communist government. In celebration of Hanoi's 1000th birthday, I think this would have been the most valuable gift the government can receive from the Catholic Church. I think about Herod's birthday party in which the gift presented to him was nothing other than John the Baptist's head (Mc 6, 27)

The successors of the Apostles

The liturgical calendar is still in the Eater season. The Book of Acts of Disciples read daily in each Mass shows how the disciples changed when they received the Holy Spirit after the resurrection event. During the Passion of Christ, the leader of the group betrayed Jesus, and the rest abandoned him. With his tragic, humiliated death on the cross, Jesus’ life would have ended in a total failure and despair. But His Resurrection changed everything. Those, who had been normally cowards, came out to be fearless. Those who had been illiterate with a humble background, turned around to be knowledgeable, engaging in debates with the scholars full immense knowledge. When facing the authority. When facing the authority, they had firmly declared: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5, 29).

Facing numerous social issues: injustice, corruption, the high level of abortion, human trading, land and water border concessions to neighboring countries - all stemming from a sort of original sin: the partisan dictatorship, the silence and the subdue attitude of bishops toward the government do not follow good and heroic examples of the Apostles “We must obey God rather than men”.

Also from this it, one can understand why the Hanoi Catholic community from the clerics to religious men and women and the faithful have come to love and be bonded with a shepherd who has been persistently following the example Jesus had set, a shepherd who is always ready to lay down his life for his flock: Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet.


Where is your brother?

To appoint a bishop is the exclusive right of the Pope. That's the principle. But in a communist country such as Vietnam, things are not that simple. Everyone knows about Hanoi's resolution to remove Archbishop Kiet from Hanoi area at all costs. This plan is now being carried out.

We have not known through whom or which means the communist government is utilizing to have an impact on the Vatican and the Vietnamese bishops. As Christians in our country of Vietnam today we can only pray for the one who is replacing Msgr. Kiet to be in peace, that he is only to obey the Holy Father in completing his duty laden with difficulties, and he will not be doing the kind of things which one day can cause him to face the same question God once asked Cain: "Where is your brother?"

Saigon April 22, 2010

Pascal Nguyen Ngoc Tinh, OFM

© Translated from Vietnamese by VietCatholic Network