Muong La parish is located in the mountainous province of Son La where religious activities have been restricted
Catholics attend Mass in Lang Lao chapel in Yen Bai province on Aug. 7. (Photo courtesy of giaophanhunghoa.org)
Authorities in Vietnam’s northwestern province have recognized a predominantly ethnic Catholic parish in a clear sign of the government relaxing its religious policies after the Holy See-Hanoi deal.
The recognition comes through certification for the parish located in Muong La district in the mountainous province of Son La, where religious activities have been restricted.
Bishop Dominic Hoang Minh Tien of Hung Hoa presided at a special Mass on Aug. 8 to mark the official establishment of Muong La parish which has 2,200 members, 90 percent of whom are Hmong ethnic villagers.
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Present at the ceremony were Emeritus Bishop Peter Nguyen Van De of Thai Binh, 30 priests and 1,000 people including representatives from local authorities.
Tien appreciated the local government for being open to religious activities and adopting flexibility while applying regulations to meet the growing needs of the local people.
He said Catholic communities in the province “should be entitled to enjoy the freedom of religious activities according to the constitution.”
The government recognizes local Catholics’ contributions to the common good"
He stressed the need for leaders and facilities to hold services, catechism, and community activities.
The bishop said the approval for Muong La parish means that the government recognizes local Catholics’ contributions to the common good and sharing the Good News with others.
Most of the parish’s ethnic Hmong members moved to the area in 1992, while the Kinh majority people went there to seek jobs at Son La hydropower plant in 2005.
Local people would gather inside houses to pray. Priests from other places started to pay pastoral visits in 2010. The parish was founded by the diocese in 2014.
Fathers Peter Nguyen Cong Luc and Joseph Nguyen Phu Dao serve the parish with the three sub-parishes of Chieng An, Chieng Cong and It Ong and Muong Bu mission station.
Father Joseph Nguyen Tien Lien, pastor of Mai Yen parish in Son La province, said government approval of Muong La parish is really good news for local Catholics who have good relationships with government officials.
"Vietnamese Catholics are expecting the government to ease its religious policies"
Lien, whose parish is unrecognized, said Muong La is the second parish in the province recognized by the government. The first one was Moc Chau parish, which was approved in 2021.
The priest said Hung Hoa diocese has petitioned the three provinces of Dien Bien, Lai Chau and Son La to approve tens of local parishes since 2016 but only four parishes have been recognized so far.
Vietnamese Catholics are expecting the government to ease its religious policies after President Vo Van Thuong met Pope Francis and other Vatican officials and signed a landmark agreement on July 27.
The pact would allow a pontifical representative to reside in the country and open an office there for the first time since the country’s reunification under communist rule in 1975.
Vietnam, a socialist republic, follows a one-party system led by the Communist Party of Vietnam. It espouses communism along with the ideologies of the late Ho Chi Minh, which serve as the guiding principles for the party and the state.
On Aug. 9, state-run newspaper, Tuoitre, reported that the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Ho Chi Minh City awarded 30 certificates of land use rights and ownership of houses and land-attached assets to Christian, Buddhist and other faith organizations.
The newspaper said those groups in the past could not gain government permits to build new buildings and repair old facilities to serve followers.
"There has been a change in the government’s views on religion"
Phan Kieu Thanh Huong, deputy of the city's Fatherland Front, was quoted as saying that granting ownership to those religious organizations “shows the government's care for local religions."
President Thuong paid his first formal visit to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV) at their headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City on Aug. 7.
The CBCV President Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang told him that there has been a change in the government’s views on religion: first, the government considered religion as opium, then accepted the existence of religion, and now sees it as a part of the people.
Nnag said the number of Catholics is on the increase, so they need more places of worship and other facilities for their activities. Religious activities will be more favorable only when religious organizations are approved.
The archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City said local people wanted to be more involved in health care and educational activities.
Church-run kindergartens have contributed much to society. The local church now wishes to engage in higher education activities.
He said with the government's open policy, sympathy and understanding, and well-adapted mechanism, local Catholics will surely reach their full potential to work for the national interest.
Nang also expressed the desire of the Vietnamese Catholic Church to continue on the path of dialogue and communion, and the way of the Gospel the wider church has done over the past 2,000 years.
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