A priest offers flowers to Bishop Peter Nguyen Van De during the feast of Saints Peter and Paul at the Pastoral Center of Divine Mercy on June 29 in Thai Binh province. (Photo courtesy of Thai Binh Diocese)
An elderly bishop who will reach retirement age next year has founded new orders and built facilities to meet Vietnamese Catholics’ spiritual and material needs in a northern diocese.
Bishop Peter Nguyen Van De of Thai Binh said he will end his episcopal duty when he reaches 75 on Jan. 15, 2021. He plans to request permission from the Holy See to retire early next year.
He said he had worked with other bishops from Hanoi Ecclesiastical Province to propose a list of episcopal candidates for the diocese to the Holy See.
Vatican officials usually work with Vietnam’s government on the list of candidates and the chosen candidate must be approved by both sides.
“While we are awaiting the Holy See’s decision, please pray fervently to God to offer the local Church a new bishop after God’s own will and heart,” he told thousands of people who attended the feast of Saints Peter and Paul held on June 29 at the Pastoral Center of Divine Mercy in An Lac in Thai Binh province’s Vu Thu district.
He said the new bishop must be loved and received by all local Catholics.
Bishop De announced that he decided to establish the Society of Apostolic Life of Divine Mercy and the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation of Thai Binh for the diocese’s benefit.
The society with over 30 members, based at the Pastoral Center of Divine Mercy in An Lac, aims to provide care for the poor, miserable and abandoned.
Based in Pho Hien in Hung Yen province, the congregation follows the example of the late Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte, who founded the first Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation in 1670 at Pho Hien. Its members serve people of other faiths and orphans, care for infants and work for women’s dignity.
The headquarters of the new congregation, which has 40 members, is under construction.
Since he started to serve the diocese in 2009, Bishop De has recognized clear signs showing that God urges him to pay much attention to local vocations of the Divine Mercy. More and more local priests, seminarians and young men and women wish to follow apostolic life and to bring God’s love to people in poverty and the disabled and abandoned.
The Salesian bishop said his predecessor and senior priests had sent many sisters to train at church institutes in the south as a way to prepare for a new Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation.
The seventh bishop of the 84-year-old diocese said the diocese wants the government to return a plot of 14,000 square meters of an old convent in Pho Hien where Bishop de la Motte summoned the first meeting with local priests in 1670. The local Church now uses only 4,000 sq m of the land.
He said the Church plans to build a pastoral center on the land to serve people’s religious needs.
Bishop De said the diocese will hold training courses, meetings and retreats for children, catechists, animators and associations at the newly built Pastoral Center of Divine Mercy, which is next to An Lac church. The center on a 30,000 sq m plot will offers healthcare and vocational skills to 100-200 people with physical disabilities and will be used as a minor seminary and home for retired priests.
Anne Tran Thi Ngat from Huu Vy parish said local Catholics are proud of their bishop, who has built many facilities in recent years to improve Catholics’ religious and material lives. Last year Bishop De started the construction of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
Ngat said most people in the diocese, which covers the provinces of Hung Yen and Thai Binh, work on farms and live on meager incomes, so they could not build large facilities to train lay Catholics and hold retreats, meetings and other activities.
“We support the bishop by making donations and working on construction sites,” she said.
The diocese is served by 19 orders and 139 priests.