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Vietnam islanders welcome first resident priest

Co To Parish in the island district of Co To of Quang Ninh province was founded as a subparish in 2004

Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Ban and Father Augustin Hoang Ngoc Toan are welcomed at the St Peter Church in Co To District on Dec 1

Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Ban and Father Augustin Hoang Ngoc Toan are welcomed at the St Peter Church in Co To District on Dec 1. (Photo: gphaiphong.org)

Published: December 06, 2022 11:06 AM GMT

Updated: December 06, 2022 11:44 AM GMT

More than a thousand Catholics residing on remote islands off the north coast of Vietnam for decades have received their first resident priest.

Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Ban of Hai Phong installed Father Augustin Hoang Ngoc Toan as the first pastor of Co To Parish based in the island district of Co To of Quang Ninh province on Dec. 1.

Twenty-one priests from the province and Hai Phong joined the ceremony attended by hundreds of people. Local authorities also offered congratulations and flowers to Father Toan and the parish.

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Local people in traditional clothes played drums, clapped enthusiastically and offered Bishop Ban and Father Toan bouquets of bright flowers on arrival at St. Peter Church.

The prelate said that day “is a truly historic occasion for local Catholics who received their first parish priest after having moved to the islands decades ago.”

He asked them to maintain their great joy by bearing witness to Christian values in their daily life and bringing the joy of the Good News to other people.

On the previous night, local Catholics gave cultural performances to mark the important event.

Co To District covers over 50 islands with an area of 47 square kilometers and 60 nautical miles from the mainland and has a population of some 7,000 including seven ethnic groups of Chinese, Dao, Kinh, Nung, San Diu, San Chi and Tay.

According to local residents, most of the island residents who were Chinese people returned to their home in 1978, leaving only 10 percent of the population, or 700 people on the islands.

Ten years later, 50 Catholic households with 250 members from parishes of Van Ly and Xuong Dien in Nam Dinh province and other people moved to the remote islands according to the government’s new economic policies. In the following years, they welcomed many other Catholics from the dioceses of Hai Phong and Thanh Hoa.

Then Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong established Co To Subparish in 2004. The subparish, whose patron is St. Peter, served 70 households with 300 members.

Bishop Thien and some priests paid the first pastoral visit to them in 2008 and in the following year they started the construction of a new church on a plot of land given by the government. The Baroque-style church was inaugurated four years later by Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, then a non-resident apostolic representative of Vietnam.

Priests from Cam Pha parish regularly provided pastoral care for them.

In 2020, the subparish was elevated to Co To Parish with 1,400 members who mainly reside on the two islands of Co To and Thanh Lan. They catch fish and do tourism business for a living.

Father Toan, who was ordained in 2014, had served two parishes of Dong Binh and Ha Lai before being assigned to Co To Parish.

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