The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: June 4, 2004
Program aims to foster U.S.-Vietnam Catholic ties
By THOMAS C. FOX
Vietnamese ministers from the Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese will come to Boston College in the fall for training as part of an extensive program aimed at fostering cultural ties between the United States and Vietnam. The program also will eventually meet some pressing pastoral needs in Vietnam.
The new program, to last at least a decade, is significant because it has the blessing of government officials in Vietnam, where once strained church-state relations have warmed in recent years.
With the church in Vietnam slowly emerging from many years of isolation and government hostility, the Ho Chi Minh archdiocese-Boston College partnership, as it is being called, is a hopeful sign that Vietnamese Catholics will be allowed by the government to play a greater role in providing social services.
Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City since 1998, supports the program, maintaining that his churchs number one challenge today is training pastoral ministers.
The initial phase of the program calls for two women religious, Daughters of Charity, to study health care ministries while two priests will study various parish related ministries. All will earn masters degrees.
Since 1975, when the war ended, the communist-led government seized church properties, closed Catholic hospitals and schools, limited ordinations and scrutinized most aspects of church life. During the 1990s, Hanoi slowly loosened its grip on society, opening Vietnam to foreign investments and visitors. Restrictions on Catholic life also loosened. Catholic nuns, for example, were allowed to run day care centers and to be more involved in providing health care.
With the 1998 appointment of Man, cooperation between the church and government grew. Man is viewed as a moderate with deep pastoral instincts. He believes the church in Vietnam has much to gain by working in tandem with the government, providing much-needed social services.
In 1996 Washington and Hanoi officially established diplomatic relations.
As openings for Vietnamese Catholics gained ground in the mid-1990s, Jesuit Fr. Julio Giulietti, then director at Georgetown Universitys Center for Intercultural Education and Development, began building bridges between Vietnamese Catholics and those in the outside world. He began working with Vietnamese Jesuits and developing other church contacts. His efforts took him back to Vietnam 18 times since 1994.
Now head of the Ignatian Institute at Boston College, Giuliettis passion is to bring Western Catholics into contact with those in developing nations.
It was during a visit in March 2003 that Giulietti and Man first began to talk about their proposed partnership. Those discussions in Ho Chi Minh City led to Giuliettis extending an invitation to Man in July 2003 to visit Boston College the following November.
Just weeks before he visited, Man was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, an indication of the key role he plays in the Vietnam church.
Some 8 percent of Vietnams estimated 70 million people are Catholic. Half of these Catholics reside in the Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese.
One evening last year at his residence Man told NCR in an interview about the complexities of leading a church in a communist nation. The key to effective evangelization, he said, involves developing clergy, religious and laity to become skilled pastoral ministers. He said that new opportunities are opening for Catholic involvement in nation building. Becoming involved in these areas, he said, the church can show government authorities it is not a threat, but a potential partner.
In an important indicator of better church-state relations, Ho Chi Minh City officials last year returned a piece of property to the archdiocese that had once housed a seminary. Man hopes this property might one day become a pastoral ministry center.
With two to four Vietnamese ministry students coming to Boston College each year for the next decade, the partners hope that a core group of Vietnamese ministers will learn modern skills in pastoral care.
Giulietti emphasized the word partnership. The initial needs all come from Man, he said. But the program will go two ways. While Vietnamese will learn skills in the United States they cannot learn in Vietnam, they will also share their culture and ideas on church with students and faculty at Boston College.
According to Giulietti, half the funding will come from Boston College. The other half will have to come from outside sources. He said he is hopeful U.S. Catholics will respond, recognizing the importance of building effective ties among Catholics while doing something positive for the church in Vietnam. Giulietti is treasurer of the NCR board of directors.
Tom Fox is NCR publisher. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
National Catholic Reporter, June 4, 2004
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