Vietnam church issues guidelines on migrant pastoral care

Bishops' commission says issue of large movement of itinerants and foreign migrants must be addressed
Vietnam church issues guidelines on migrant pastoral care

Young migrants workers discuss the daily challenges they face at a gathering in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 8. (Photo supplied)

Vietnamese bishops have introduced guidelines on how to provide pastoral care for itinerants and foreign migrants as the country faces a huge movement of people.

The Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People issued "Pastoral Guidelines for Migrants and the Diaspora" on Nov. 1. They are on a trial basis and will be reviewed in two years.

Bishop Joseph Do Manh Hung, head of the commission, said the first-ever guidelines, which were approved by the bishops in October, aim to respond to "the current trend of internal and external migration and diasporas in the country."

"Today, to provide pastoral care for people on the move is not only a challenge for pastors but the need of all people of God," Bishop Hung of Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese said.

People move from rural areas to cities for study, work, business and marriage.

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"The reality of migration in Vietnam creates many challenges and urges the local church to find effective ways of doing pastoral work and helping migrants to live out their faith in new environments," he said.

He said ministering to migrants goes beyond boundaries of region, nation, race and language.

Bishop Hung said the guidelines aim to help migrants "have a normal life in their destinations, create conditions for migrants to receive sacraments and spiritual care and perform their duties to soon integrate themselves into local church life."

The guidelines also ask migrants to join local parishes and take faith education courses.

Priests have duties to welcome, offer advice and provide pastoral care for migrants. They also have to respect the faith of migrant couples and create conditions for them to complete church procedures and rites.

Dioceses are asked to have priests to serve the migrants as Vietnam has Catholic communities speaking Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.

Joseph Vu Xuan Hien and his relatives moved to Yen Bai City in Vietnam's northeast in 2008. They produce glass doors for a living.

Hien said many migrants from his home province of Yen Bai do various jobs – from collecting used items and selling food on the streets to trading clothes and shoes, and making bread and cakes. Many have lived in the city for 20 years.

"We established the Saint Vincent Association three years ago at Yen Bai parish to support one another spiritually and materially," the father of two said.

He said they join choirs and associations, play drums on feast days, and help local Catholics in building church facilities and doing charity work.

Gerard Dominic Nguyen Le Thai Hoang, who converted to Catholicism and married a Catholic woman in Ho Chi Minh city, said the local church should establish direct links to migrant workers. They should be offered support in finding accommodation and jobs, marriage classes and offer advice to people in need, and encourage them to join parishes.

"Many workers can hardly find proper and convenient accommodation, are exploited by company owners, and barely have time to attend formal courses at parishes," said Hoang, a 33-year-old expert in communication from Lam Dong Province.  

Bishop Hung said due to the diversity and complexity of migration, the pastoral guidelines will be used as a trial for two years. His commission will continue to research and amend them before presenting the final version to local bishops for approval.

He said Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial heart, is home to 5 million migrants including 300,000 Catholics, who came from other areas of the country to study and work.

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