UCA News

Religious vocations on the decline in Vietnam

Economic woes, domestic discord, distress migration, and disregard for faith practice eat into vocations in Hue Archdiocese
Young candidates assemble to mark the 60th World Day of Prayer for Vocations at Tay Loc parish in Hue archdiocese on April 30

Young candidates assemble to mark the 60th World Day of Prayer for Vocations at Tay Loc parish in Hue archdiocese on April 30. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: May 11, 2023 12:07 PM GMT
Updated: May 11, 2023 12:33 PM GMT

Taxi driver Bartholomew Hoang Thanh Tung was deeply disappointed when his 15-year-old son gave up his studies at a pre-seminary last year. 

But Tung admits that equal blame rests on him and his wife, as domestic discord was the order of the day. Due to their meager income, Tung said his wife often picked quarrels with him about almost everything.

Tung said his son Hoang Le Thanh Huy could not stand “the nonsense of his mother, who shouted loudly at family members on a regular basis.” 

Huy was one of three students who lost their priestly vocations in the Tay Loc parish in the last two years because of domestic discords and economic woes, officials said.

Father Philip Hoang Linh, vocation promoter in Hue archdiocese, which covers Huy’s parish, said there were 250 vocations two years ago, but it has come now down to 130, aged 10-18.

Students such as Huy, who show an aptitude to join the seminary, are admitted to the archdiocesan pre-seminary after they finish high school. The local church no longer runs any minor seminary after the country was reunified under communist control.

Huy “used to be an altar boy and eagerly wanted to be a priest, but was disappointed with the family and gave it up,” his 52-year-old father of three said.

“I have no choice but to accept his decision,” said the parishioner in the south-central province of Thua Thien Hue which borders Laos to the west.

Huy dropped out of school and took up a job at his sister’s goldsmith’s shop in the neighboring Da Nang city because of the family’s financial woes, his father said.

Hue Archdiocese sends at least six candidates to the major seminary each year. Currently, it has 63 major seminarians and 17 candidates in the pre-seminary.

Father Linh said economic distress, domestic disharmony, migration, and disregard for faith are reasons for dwindling priestly vocations in the archdiocese.

Huy’s Tay Loc parish, which comprises two provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue, lost three priestly vocations after their families moved to other places for their livelihood.

In another case, Mary Nguyen Thi Dieu Anh said her 16-year-old son Simon Dang Huu Da left a Redemptorist vocation last year after she lost her job at a factory over deteriorating health.

The single mother and her son now live with her parents in Phuong Duc parish in Hue, the capital of Thua Thien Hue province.

Da said after his mother’s business collapsed, she and the family left for another place to avoid repaying debts.

“My mother’s financial woes came as a great shock to me and it shamed my family. So, I am not worthy of a priestly vocation,” Da, who has three siblings, said. He now works in a vehicle repair garage. 

Father Linh, the pastor of Tay Loc parish, said the archdiocese now offers scholarships to 100 candidates to sustain vocations.

Local Catholics are also encouraged to sponsor candidates, the priest added.

Father Linh recalled when he was a candidate, he wanted to give it up to support his family, but his parents asked a parish priest to sponsor him.

Sister Ephrem Mai Thi Loan from Saint Paul de Chartres Convent said fewer women are now qualified to join convents because of a drop in the number of girl students attending universities and colleges due to financial problems.

The emergence of nuclear families was also cited as another reason by Sister Loan.

Four Saint Paul de Chartres convents in Hue archdiocese, home to eight male and female congregations, together used to attract at least 25 girls each year.

Now, their strength does not stretch beyond three, Sister Loan observed.

To generate interest in consecrated life, “we offer scholarships, arrange weekly meetings, and encourage them to take an active part in charity activities and visit our homes for orphans, elderly people, people with physical disabilities, lepers, and HIV/AIDS patients.”

Teresa Vu Thi Minh, a 12th grader from Dai Loc parish, said she plans to join the Lovers of the Holy Cross Congregation in Hue archdiocese although her parents want her to work to support the family as they lost their jobs.

Minh, 17, said the nuns have given her a scholarship and accommodation. “I find joy and meaning in religious life,” she said.

Father Dominic Phan Hung, the pastor of Phu Cam Cathedral parish in the archdiocese, said that the number of vocations in the parish has fallen from 50 to 36 in recent years.

The 341-year-old parish, which has produced two archbishops, 79 priests, and 96 religious, has the largest number of vocations in the archdiocese.
The 68-year-old priest said the parish tried to groom young vocations by inviting them to pray, study Church subjects, do outdoor recreational activities, and visit religious sites.

The priest also meets their parents regularly to encourage them to set good examples. “Families play a decisive role,” he said.  

James Dinh Cong Lanh, who sells candies on the streets for a living, said his 15-year-old son plans to join a priestly vocation group at Tay Linh parish in the archdiocese.

“Although we experience economic difficulties, I try to create good opportunities for him to pursue his vocation,” Lanh, 43, said.

“I return home from work early so that I can go to church with him daily,” Lanh said.

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