People move Bishop Vincent Paul Pham Van Du’s coffin to a new grave in the compound of Cua Nam Cathedral on Nov. 30. (Photo courtesy of giaophanlangson)
Bishop Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri of Lang Son Cao Bang presided at a special Mass marking the reburial of Vietnam's late Bishop Vincent Paul Pham Van Du at Cua Nam Cathedral in Lang Son.
All local priests joined the open-air ceremony aired on social media on Nov. 30 due to restrictions to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bishop Tri said Bishop Du, who was banned from serving as bishop for 30 years, died on Sept. 2, 1998, and was buried in front of the Bishop's House next to the old cathedral ruined in 1967 during the Vietnam War.
He said local people were surprised that the late bishop's body had remained intact, with his attire and shoes none the worse when his grave was disinterred.
He said the body was cleaned, covered with a new chasuble and put into a new coffin. People gathered to pray in front of the coffin around the clock before it was reburied in the compound of the cathedral.
Bishop Tri said local people including priests daily visit Bishop Du’s grave and pray for their "legendary pastor who is still beloved and vividly remembered by local people."
He was banned from leaving his parish, so he could not travel to Hanoi to be quietly ordained
The prelate said the late bishop's intact body is a clear sign of his deep love for his children in the peripheral diocese.
Bishop Du, the first residential bishop of the diocese, was named bishop in 1960, when he was serving as parish priest of That Khe Church, 70 kilometers from the Bishop's House. His appointment was not approved by the government and consequently he was not publicly ordained.
He was banned from leaving his parish, so he could not travel to Hanoi to be quietly ordained by Bishop Joseph Mary Trinh Nhu Khue of Hanoi like other bishops who were appointed at that time.
Bishop Dominic Mary Dinh Duc Tru of Thai Binh masqueraded as a tricycle rider riding to Hanoi to be secretly ordained and later he ordained Bishop Joseph Mary Pham Nang Tinh of Bui Chu at a private place.
Father Du lived a simple life as an ordinary person in a remote area. He taught catechism, celebrated Masses, collected firewood in forests, carried water from streams and cooked for himself. Local people were not allowed to call him bishop.
At that time, the local church had only four priests. Two were elderly and ailing after most local Catholics and clergy moved to southern Vietnam to avoid religious persecution in 1954.
In 1979, when Chinese troops attacked Vietnam's provinces including Lang Son, the priest accompanied local people to Bac Ninh, where he was secretly ordained by Bishop Paul Pham Dinh Tung of Bac Ninh.
Bishop Du still was not approved by the government until 1989 when Cardinal Roger Etchegaray paid an official visit to Vietnam.
The following year he publicly wore an episcopal cassock, biretta and crozier for the first time when he joined other bishops in concelebrating the funeral of Cardinal Joseph Mary Trinh Van Can in Hanoi.
Bishop Du lived 30 years in complete seclusion like Jesus in Nazareth to maintain the faith of local people
He moved to the Bishop’s House in 1992 and started to build the ruined diocese, training young men to send them to seminaries, inviting priests from other places to work with local people, building the Bishop’s House and repairing other churches in bad condition, and raising funds to build a new cathedral.
He also visited the faithful, offered emotional and material support to people in need and gave scholarships to students, although he was prevented from paying pastoral visits to some parishes and ordaining priests.
He suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed in his last years.
Emeritus Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, a former bishop of Lang Son Cao Bang, said his predecessor served through his quiet presence in his position, residence, duties, illnesses and suffering. He welcomed and loved all people including those who treated him unfairly.
The archbishop said Bishop Du, who was ordained a priest in 1948, lived 30 years in complete seclusion like Jesus in Nazareth to maintain the faith of local people. He might have been one of the world’s most silent bishops.
Bishop Du visits a parish during his long service to the Vietnam Church. (Photo supplied)
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