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Lent different in north and south

Chants and quiet prayer reflect different regional cultures

ucanews.com reporter, Yen Bai city

ucanews.com reporter, Yen Bai city

Updated: April 11, 2011 07:06 AM GMT
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Lent  different in north and south
A Catholic in traditional dress chants about Jesus

How Catholics observe Lent in Vietnam can largely depend on location, traditions and social factors. Catholics in northern dioceses traditionally recite meditative chants about Jesus’ suffering during Lent as ways to strengthen their faith, while those in hectic Ho Chi Minh City seek peace and relaxation to get closer to God. Anna Tran Thi Nhi, 67, along with 500 others, recite ngam, a meditative chant on the 15 secret tortures and sufferings of Jesus, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at Vinh Quang church in mountainous Yen Bai province. “I feel the pains Jesus suffered and get close to Him through ngam sessions,” said Nhi, who started attending these sessions when she was a child. “I am also given strength to work hard to support my children and husband,” she said. Joseph Lam Van Tinh, aged 103, said ngam helped local Catholics overcome many hardships from 1964 to 2003 when the parish had no resident priest and religious activities were restricted. The 102-year-old parish serves 3,000 Catholics from Kinh, Hmong, Thai and Tay ethnic groups. Tinh, who served as head of the parish council in the 1970s and1980s, said the chanting is a result of inculturation as Catholics adapted some of their traditions to their devotional acts using their tonal language. The chanters, traditionally wearing black or white ao dai (traditional dress) or other dark clothing, kneel chanting about the sufferings of Jesus in front of an altar decorated with candles to signify the Stations of the Cross. Churchgoers kneel, meditate and recite a decade of the rosaryafter each station. One candle is snuffed out after one chanter finishes his chant. Meditative sessions during Holy Week, especially on Wednesday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, are even more solemn. Chanters stand while people play drums, gongs and strike tocsins (wooden bells). Augustine Tran Ngoc Hien, who serves as a chanter from Yen Bai parish, said they have to practice chants at home, pray for them to perform well and prepare the altar. The tradition even has a competitive aspect. On April 1, 100 chanters from Thanh Hoa diocese’s 51 parishes competed in an annual ngam contest held at the cathedral. On April 8, the 15 winning chanting teams from that competition took part in the final held at Tam Tong church. The team from Ngoc Lam parish won the three million dong (US$142) first prize while two other teams from Sam Son and Tan Hai parishes won second prizes worth one million dong each. Meanwhile, Catholics from Ho Chi Minh City in the south prefer to observe Lent a little more quietly by going on retreats at a Franciscan-run retreat house to escape their busy life. Teresa Dinh Thi Kim Thuy and her friends have just finished a six-day recollection at the four-story retreat house on the outskirts of the southern metropolis. “It’s really a quiet and calm place where we find and meet God in silence and solitude during Lent,” Thuy said. They go to confession, attend Mass and Eucharist adoration in one of the four chapels, recite the Rosary, and seek advice from the Franciscan priests to resolve their problems, she added. Rosa Vu Phuong Anh said she gets close to God through the saint statues, flowers, bonsais, old trees and pools with colorful fish within the grounds of the retreat house, which covers 30,000 square meters. Anh, a pharmacist, said she and her friends go to this quiet place every year. Father Augustine Nguyen Hoang, head of the retreat house, said the house aims to give people a quiet place to pray, do spiritual exercises and refresh themselves. He said around 1,500 Catholics including Religious, college students, migrant workers and members of Catholic associations have come to the house this Lent. People have to book many months or one year in advance, he said adding that stays vary from 1-10 days. Related reports Bishop Asks Church Workers To Curb Lavish Celebrations, Traditional Lent Services Inculturated ´Funeral Of Jesus´ On Good Friday Strengthens Faith VT13850.1648

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