Facing a wave of conversion to Catholicism among ethnic Montagnards, local government of Kontum Province has obstructed the ordinary bishop’s pastoral duties with so many obstacles including a ban from celebrating Mass on Christmas Day.

Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kontum Diocese could not celebrate Mass for his flock at Son Lang village in the county of K’Bang, even the event had been scheduled and informed to Vietnam government.

Bishop Michael Hoang with his flock at An Trung on Christmas Eve
In a pastoral letter dated Dec. 22, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kontum Diocese stated that he had discussed with Vietnam government if he, as the ordinary bishop of the diocese, could carry out his pastoral duties during this Christmas without any obstacles from the local government. “Authorities at various levels has assured me I can do so,” he wrote.

However, at 10AM on Christmas Day, local officials at Son Lang backed by police and militia denied his rights to celebrate the Mass. “If you want to celebrate your Mass you can do so, but not for everyone here. You have to go to each family and each Mass cannot last for more than one hour,” he was told. He gave his blessings to the congregation and cancelled the Mass as a gesture of protest.

Bishop Michael Hoang, who spoke fluently Latin, French, English and indigenous ethnic dialects of Bana, Jarai and Sedang made historic records in the history of mission of the Church in Vietnam: 30,000 Montagnards converted to Catholicism in 2008, and more than 20,000 in the next year.

The wave of mass conversions among Montagnards has drawn attention from the government and snaky measures have been planned and carried out to stop it. Before aiming directly at the bishop, these measures have targeted a group of dozen religious priests working as reinforce to the 39 diocesan priests who have already been overloaded serving 216,000 Catholics in the diocese.

On Christmas Eve, he successfully officiated Mass at An Trung village in Kon Chro County at 7PM. After the Mass, he was scheduled to have dinner at a convent near there where police had been waiting to seize driver licences of those who dared to carry him. Police was put on alert, and ordered to search thoroughly the region after finding that the prelate was not inside the car en route to the convent.

In fact, the prelate had a simple dinner right in another car parking near a river bank where he could take a sleep before resuming his pastoral journey of hundreds of kilometres through the jungles.

Right at the river bank, his companions accidentally rescued a teenager who wanted to commit suicide. They took the girl to a hospital.

“I think it’s a Divine Providence,” said the driver. “Should we keep staying there, police would soon find us. They searched everywhere but not the hospital.”

On early morning of Christmas Day, when local officials were still in their sleep, the prelate could say Mass at Yang Trung 10km from the river bank where he had slept on the Christmas Eve, before being banned from saying another Mass at Son Lang.

It was not the first time the prelate had to sleep outdoor waiting for his chance to say Mass for his flock. Despite waves of difficulties, the prelate dubbed by many as “Vietnam vagabond bishop” does not seem to lose his humour. He thanks God for being able to sleep in a “million star hotel”.