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Vietnam Church struggles against ‘wealth god’ adherence

Some Catholics in Vietnam ignore Church teachings and follow superstitions in pursuit of material wealth
People attend a séance in Thua Thien Hue province on Feb. 23.

People attend a séance in Thua Thien Hue province on Feb. 23. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: March 14, 2024 07:39 AM GMT
Updated: March 14, 2024 11:25 AM GMT

Elizabeth Bui went to a fortune teller in late February to find out if her family should go ahead and buy another house this year.

Bui, a Catholic who owns a gold shop in Hue, the capital of Thua Thien Hue province, says she was worried after one of her ornamental bonsai trees died.

“It was a bad omen, and I was concerned it could bring me bad luck,” said the 36-year-old mother of two.

The fortune teller, who uses cartomancy to tell people’s fortunes, asked her to attend a séance to rid herself of bad luck.

“I spent five million dong [US$200] buying offerings such as sticky rice, chicken, betel, wine, fruit, flowers, cigarettes and votive paper to hold a séance,” she said.

Bui and her family go to church on the weekend. “But we do not know if seeking a fortune teller's advice is a sin,” she said.

Many of her Catholic friends have their fortunes told so that they do well in business, she claimed.

Redemptorist Father Anthony Phan Thanh Toan from Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in the province said the Church bans Catholics from practicing fortune telling, divination, cartomancy, horoscopes, black magic, and séances.

“Many Catholics deliberately ignore Church teaching and follow superstitious practices to fulfill their wish for material wealth,” Toan said.

Bui, who was born into a poor family, admits that she has had her fortune read since 2020, when she began the gold trade.

She also erected an altar to the god of wealth in her house to offer incense, flowers, fruit, and other items.

And whenever she encounters problems related to business, she approaches fortune tellers.

“We believe fortune tellers can help us avoid bad luck and have good luck,” Bui said.

The Redemptorist priest said it is hard to turn people away from superstitions, even if they are Catholics, “as they avoid priests and fail to attend liturgy services in churches.”

Some culture researchers have observed that more and more people are rushing to temples and pagodas in the first lunar months to make offerings to gods to gain wealth, promotion, fame, or fulfill other material needs.

Their quest is not to seek peace of mind, or better their lives spiritually, they said.

Tran Dinh Son, a senior religious expert, said many people are becoming "too superstitious” due to growing materialism in society.

Son said it is sad that government officials and students also go to pray in temples and pagodas, www.tuoitre.vn reported.

Superstitious practices like fortune telling, making offerings, and burning votive paper have become rampant in recent decades as people have forgotten that life operates according to the law of cause and effect, he observed.

“Doing good will beget good results, and doing evil will end up with bad results,” Son explained.

It is estimated that around 60,000 tonnes of votive paper are burnt each year in Vietnam with a population of 100 million. It costs some US$237 million, which just goes up in smoke.

This is a waste of money and harms the environment, researchers said.

The Catholic Church in Thua Thien Hue province is making efforts to stop people from being exploited by fortune tellers.

Toan said some priests refuse to hold wedding celebrations and funerals for those who indulge in superstitions and also ask other people not to attend their wedding parties as a way to force them to abandon them.

Others are invited to join Catholic associations to improve their spiritual life.

Local Redemptorists provide missions and retreats for parishes during Lent. Each mission and retreat at a parish lasts 2-3 days and is carried out by at least five Redemptorists.

“We visit some families with superstitions, explain catechism to them so that they can realize their sins, and help them to attend Eucharistic adoration before hearing their confession,” Toan said.

Still, some like Jerome Duong, who illegally records and transfers lottery numbers to people for a living, refuse to give up superstitions.

A fortune teller told him to worship the god of wealth so that he “can make a fortune.”

“I offer fruit and flowers and burn votive papers in fake dollars before an altar to the god of wealth in my house on the first and 15th days of lunar months,” Duong admitted.

But he has agreed to stop producing votive paper for a living on one condition — his parish priest agrees to hold his daughter’s marriage ceremony in the church.

But the priest insisted that Duong steer clear of gambling for a living.

“Now we attend Mass at other churches as a way to avoid the priest,” the father of two said.

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