Church leaders expect a newly established diocese in northern central Vietnam, which is prone to natural disasters
, to bring good prospects, justice and peace to local people. Archbishop Marek Zalewski
, non-resident representative of the Holy See to Vietnam, presided at a ceremony on Feb. 11 to establish Ha Tinh Diocese and install Dominican Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop as its first bishop. Present at the special ceremony held at Van Hanh Cathedral in Ha Tinh City were 30 archbishops and bishops, hundreds of priests, representatives of the local government and tens of thousands of people. “The Catholic Church in Vietnam is happy to have the new diocese of Ha Tinh, which has been expected for a long time by bishops and Catholics of Vinh Diocese,” Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien
of Hanoi said in his homily. Archbishop Thien said the establishment of the new diocese marks the growth of the local Church and creates favorable conditions for promoting faith, living in close communion with other dioceses and evangelizing effectively. He said the new diocese covering the provinces of Ha Tinh and Quang Binh has 278,559 Catholics, accounting for 13 percent of the diocese’s population, served by 135 priests, 207 religious and 56 major seminarians. Archbishop Thien said local people have striven very hard to survive and bear witness to their Catholic faith for a long time in difficult conditions on their dry and hard land. The prelate said Bishop Hop plans to focus on giving education and vocational skills to youths who have to leave home to look for jobs in cities inside and outside the country. Most only finish high school. Bishop Hop, who heads the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, will also try to raise the voice of the voiceless, protect their rights and ensure they are treated fairly, he said. Archbishop Thien urged local Catholics to follow the example of Mary, Mother of God, the new diocese’s patroness, to live a humble and simple life and trust in divine providence. Bishop Hop, 74, told the congregation that it took the local Church nearly 25 years to gain the approval of the Holy See and the government to divide Ha Tinh Diocese from Vinh Diocese. He said the division aims to meet local Catholics’ religious needs and increase evangelization work. In spite of two dioceses, Catholics in the provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh remain one family sharing and protecting one faith, he said. On Dec. 22, Pope Francis established Ha Tinh Diocese separately from Vinh Diocese and appointed Bishop Hop, then bishop of Vinh, as bishop of the new diocese. The pope also named Auxiliary Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long of Hung Hoa as bishop of Vinh. Ha Tinh is added to Vietnam's 27 dioceses serving seven million Catholics among the country’s total population of 94 million.