Catholics have mourned the death of a bishop who bravely rebuilt Vietnam's northern Thai Binh Diocese in the face of official restrictions. Bishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Sang, 86, died at his residence on Sept. 5 after suffering a stroke two years earlier. Tens of thousands of people attended his Sept. 9 funeral Mass presided over by Cardinal Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi. Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the Vatican's former non-resident representative to Vietnam, praised Bishop Sang's service in Thai Binh. Some 30 bishops and hundreds of priests from across Vietnam joined the Mass. Local Catholics stood in long lines at the Sacred Heart Cathedral to offer flowers and donations. Born in 1931 in Hanoi, Bishop Sang studied at local seminaries from 1946-1954. He accompanied other clergy and seminarians moving to South Vietnam when the country was divided, but soon returned to Hanoi. After he was ordained a priest in 1958, he served at various parishes and taught at local seminaries. Thousands of Catholics dressed in mourning attire attend the funeral Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Thai Binh. (ucanews.com photo)
He was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Hanoi Archdiocese in 1981 and was named bishop of Thai Binh
nine years later. He retired in 2009. Father Thomas Aquino Doan Xuan Thoa, 72, who serves at Chau Nhai parish, said Bishop Sang was a skillful servant sent to save the diocese. Upon arrival, Bishop Sang knelt and kissed the earth to show his dedication to the diocese's poor.
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He held talks with local government officials to "normalize" priests deemed illegal
for being ordained without government permission. Bishop Sang also ordained old seminarians. "I am always extremely grateful to Bishop Sang who ordained me when I was 49 years old," Father Thoa said. Some priests had to quietly serve at parishes, were forced to live with their families or were imprisoned, Father Thoa said. Over the years, Bishop Sang sought to improve living conditions for priests in poor parishes, including through the building of bathroom facilities. He also resumed operations of the Sacred Heart Seminary in 2008 to teach philosophy and theology to 30 seminarians who were too elderly to enter other seminaries The seminary continues to take recruits from other dioceses. Dominican sisters sent by Bishop Sang to study in church-run institutes in the south, returned to help
develop northern communities. He established dozens of new churches and supported the digging of community wells. Bishop Sang also initiated the first gathering for young Catholics from 10 northern dioceses in 2003, something that developed into an annual event in each diocese. He also served as secretary general and vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam. He was a head of the episcopal commission for the laity.