A 2009 file image of Catholics attending a celebration for the jubilee year of Thai Binh Diocese at Sacred Heart Cathedral. As of Dec. 31, 2015, there were about 6.7 million Catholics in Vietnam. (Photo by Peter Nguyen)
The Catholic Church in communist-run Vietnam is not growing and the editor of a new church directory blames it on ineffectual evangelization efforts. Father Anthony Nguyen Ngoc Son, editor of the 2016 Directory of the Catholic Church in Vietnam, told ucanews.com that only 38,050 adults converted to Catholicism in 2015 but that the same number also abandoned their faith. Published in February, the directory showed that, as of Dec. 31, 2015, there were 6.7 million Catholics in the country or 7 percent of the population. The church had 45 bishops, 5,386 priests, 4,854 seminarians and over 500,000 members of Catholic action associations. "The Catholic population has accounted for 7 per cent of the population for decades, which shows that evangelization work is ineffective," said Father Son, a former secretary of the bishops' conference. He said that, while most Catholics faithfully attend liturgical services, they do not have access to deep spiritual experiences and so few people are aware of their evangelization duties. "It is high time Catholics were educated to really meet and love God and integrate their experiences of Him into their daily lives so they can bring Christian values to other people. Those who have no close relationships with Jesus will fail to evangelize to others," he said. Father Son said evangelization is an urgent task in Vietnam where tens of million people deny spiritual values and chase after materialism and millions of others live below the poverty line, earning less US$1 per day. The directory offers concrete proposals to train missionaries to serve 53 ethnic minority groups across the country and encourages Catholics to take part in sports, culture, communication and community health programs to build a society based on Christian values. Father Son said the Vietnamese bishops planned to publish the directory in 2015 to mark the 400th anniversary of Vietnamese people receiving the Catholic faith from Jesuit missionaries who arrived in 1615. However, officials from the state-run Religious Publishing House in Hanoi asked the priest to edit and scrap any content against government opinions and delayed the book's publication until Dec. 20, 2016. "It took us 15 months to get a license from the publishing house," Father Son said, adding that the government did not like the book's proposals to help develop the church in the future through evangelization. The latest directory is updated from the first directory published in 2004 and updated in 2005.
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