UCA News


Vietnam Catholics marrying into ethnic minorities

Trend seen as aiding evangelization in the wake of official religious repression

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

Published: December 10, 2018 02:55 AM GMT
Vietnam Catholics marrying into ethnic minorities

Mary Luu Thi Na (in red), her husband Joseph Tran Van Nang, son and daughter-in-law pose for a photo at her son Tran Van Bao's wedding party on Dec. 1. (Photo by Paul Nguyen/ucanews.com)

Mary Luu Thi Na and her husband Joseph Tran Van Nang wept with happiness at the Dec. 1 wedding of their son Tran Van Bao.

He married Ban Mai Phuong, a Dao ethnic woman, at Vinh Quang Church in mountainous Yen Bai province in the northern part of central Vietnam.

About half of the 500 or so guests were members of the local Tay, Thai and Muong ethnic minorities.

"We are very happy that my son has brought Phuong to the church," Na said with a smile. "God blesses our family.

The 50-year-old mother of four said she appreciated her son's decision to marry a non-Catholic ethnic woman and saw it as helping to evangelize among minority groups.

She said Phuong, 21, is good at catechism and was one of 10 non-Catholics to recently finish a three-month course on marriage preparations.

Now she has two daughters-in-law who have embraced Catholicism. The first was from the Thai ethnic group and she converted in 2015.

"We live together in perfect harmony in our home," Na said of her farming family. "We recite the Rosary in the evening to maintain our faith."

Phuong, who has four sisters and one brother, said she is the first person from her village to adopt Catholicism.

"I agreed to follow the religion because my husband's family and other Catholics love and help me, and Catholicism teaches people to worship one God and love and respect other people," she said.

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In doing so, she had been supported by her own parents.

Na, whose mother is also Tay, accepted Catholicism before her marriage. She now believes that such wedlock plays an important part in spreading the faith.

Thomas Tran Van Tra, 38, who married a local ethnic Thai woman 15 years ago, said at first his parents strongly opposed his decision. 

Local ethnic people can be looked down on and some Catholics believe marriages should be between members of established Catholic families.

But Tra said his wife accepted Catholicism and he was glad that their marriage rituals were conducted at the Vinh Quang Church.

"We now have a happy marriage and two good daughters," said Tra, who serves as a council member in a subparish and earns a living by trading as well as repairing televisions and other electronic appliances.

Tra said he sets a good example by treating his family kindly and not committing adultery or getting drunk.

His wife, a dressmaker, avoided going to church for about five years after getting married, but that changed when she learned more about its teachings, including fasting and the marking of holy days.

He attends wedding celebrations and funerals of his wife's relatives and his wife regularly attends Mass.

His parents have dropped their earlier concerns. Now they love both his wife and their children.

Tra's two brothers are happily married to members of the Thai and Tay minorities.

He said it is important for Catholics to act as missionaries and carry their faith forward. However, he said that many mixed marriages fail due to commitments on either side not being honoured.

One mother from a well-to-do family in Yen Bai province's Nghia Lo parish said her husband, who converted to Catholicism before marrying her, abandoned the faith some 15 years ago and tried to force her to do likewise.

Her children have not been baptized and she had a "terrible conscience" about not being able to regularly attend Mass.

"I snuck out of my house and attended the feast of St. Teresa, my patroness, at the church on October 1 and I felt peace of mind," she said.

Joseph Tran Minh Nhu, 94, a senior lay missionary from Vinh Quang parish, said since 2003 when priests were sent to provide pastoral care, many Catholics had married members of ethnic minorities and followers of other faiths.

Past stigma attached to marrying so-called "ethnics" and other non-Catholics has been easing.

Nhu said about 100 local mixed couples, between 20 and 40 years of age, have successful marriages.

He added that relationships of a similar number of other mixed couples had broken down or were unhappy, including as a result of drug and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence.

Nhu said mixed marriages were effective ways of evangelizing in the area where local Catholics suffered religious restrictions and had no resident priests for half a century.

The government could not prevent Catholics from wedding members of ethnic minorities or followers of other faiths.

However, Nhu said, there is a need for awareness of potential personal problems. "It is important that the church holds pastoral plans to lead mixed couples to live good marriages and strengthen their faith in the early stages of their married life." 

Vinh Quang parish, established in 1909, has 3,600 Catholics, including about 1,300 members of ethnic minorities.

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