Ban Me Thuot diocese covers part of the central highlands. In a land area of 21,723 square kilometers, the diocese's territory covers two provinces of Dak Lak and Dak Nong and part of Binh Phuoc province. The diocese's population is made up of indigenous ethnic groups of Ede, Mnong, So Dang and Stieng, among 44 ethic minority groups.
Vietnamese, Ede and Mnong ethnic languages are used mainly. Local ethnic groups use their own languages within their communities.
Ban Me Thuot diocese was established on June 22, 1967 by Pope Paul VI. The pope also named Father Pierre Nguyen Huy Mai as bishop of the diocese. Bishop Mai's episcopal ordination took place in Sai Gon (now Ho Chi Minh City) on Aug. 15 that year. As its establishment, the diocese had 56,719 Catholics in 33 parishes served by 55 priests.
Present Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Ban, who was ordained on May 12, 2009 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, pays much attention to evangelize indigenous minority groups. Some local priests translate the Bible into local languages and conserve local cultures and traditions and inculturate them into liturgical services.
As the center of the Central Highlands, Buon Ma Thuot city is well connected to neighboring cities and provinces in terms of transport infrastructure by roads and airways. The only airport based in the city has flights to and from Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City.
The area has a quite mild climate with an annual average temperature of 24 degrees Celsius. There are two seasons in the year. The rainy season lasts from May to October, when it rains hard. Roads are often damaged by rain water. The dry season lasts from November to April, when the weather is cold and windy, and rivers are dry.
The diocese is the country's biggest in terms of coffee plantations with an area of 174,740 hectares. It gives an annual yield of around 435 million kilograms of coffee beans. Cotton, cacao, cashew, rubber and pepper are also grown in prosperous farmlands. Avocado, durian, mango, rambutan and other tropical fruit trees are also famous fruits here. The government-run controversial mining bauxite project is under construction in Dak Nong province. Local intellectuals criticize the projects and say they will bring only short-term economic benefits, cause air and water pollution, and exhaust local water resources. A Chinese company is undertaking the mining projects.
Government and private operators provide extensive telecommunication facilities such as Internet, phones and cable TV in the diocesan area.a
Buon Ma Thuot (the seat of the diocese) is the capital of Dak Lak province. The city is the main tourist gateway to indigenous ethnic minority villages in the Central Highlands. Ea Krong River and its branches form Serepok River flowing down into Mekong River. There are also many waterfalls in the region.
The diocese has many high mountains such as Chu Yang Sin with 2,442 meters in height. Mountains count for 30 percent of the area. Basaltic land making up one third of the territory is suitable for planting coffee trees, rubber trees, cashew trees, black pepper and fruit trees.
Most indigenous minority groups live in poverty and have few accesses to government-run basic education.
The diocesan area is known for the culture of gongs, music and festivals from local indigenous groups. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the culture of gongs as orally-transmitted masterpiece and immaterial culture heritage of human being on Nov. 15, 2005. The 2009 International Gongs Festival was held on Nov. 12-15 in the neighboring Pleiku city. 35 bands throughout the country and five bands from Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines gave performance at the annual event.
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