ucanews.com reporter, Yen BaiUpdated: May 08, 2018 10:13 AM GMT
Bishop John Mary Vu Tat blesses stones of the new church on May 4 at Lien Son sub-parish in Yen Bai province's Van Chan district in Vietnam. (Photo by Joseph Nguyen/ucanews.com)
Hundreds of Catholics from ethnic minorities have started to build a church in northwest Vietnam's remote mountainous area after suffering religious restrictions for nearly 50 years.
Although it rained heavily, about 1,000 people, including representatives from local authorities and Buddhists, attended a special Mass to start the project in Lien Son sub-parish in Yen Bai province's Van Chan district on May 4.
Bishop John Mary Vu Tat of Hung Hoa celebrated the ceremony joined by 25 priests.
"We are very happy that today God loves the Catholic community in this remote area," Paul Ha Duy Bon, a member of the Tay ethnic minority, told ucanews.com.
Bon, 60, said the event showed the faith development of local Catholics who have practiced their faith without resident priests for the past 48 years.
The sub-parish established in 2012 is home to 312 Catholics. Two-thirds of them are Tay while the rest are Kinh and Hmong. They live among followers of other faiths and atheists.
Bon, a father of four, said his Catholic parents moved to the area in 1970. His father died but his mother is now 84. He and his 10 siblings have produced nearly 200 children and grandchildren living in the sub-parish.
He said his Tay ancestors were not Catholic. His grandfather Paul Ha Van Uy was adopted by a Catholic family in Vinh Quang parish when he was 7 years old. His grandfather was baptized and married a Catholic woman. Uy served as a lay leader and died in 1983.
Bon said his relatives had to practice the Catholic faith secretly for decades because local authorities banned them from gathering for prayer. They walked to Vinh Quang Church to attend Mass during Christmas and Easter.
He said in 2007 his relatives borrowed 20 million dong (US$880 now) from Father Michael Le Van Hong, former pastor of Vinh Quang, to buy a wooden house that was converted into a chapel.
Priests from Vinh Quang parish started to celebrate monthly Masses at the chapel in 2012. Now local Catholics have four Masses a month.
Bon said the chapel has been in bad condition since 2014. Local Catholics have bought 3,000 square meters of land to build the new church. It took them two years to get building permission from the government.
The 300-square-meter church will cost an estimated 3.7 billion dong (US$163,000). Local Catholics have each donated 500,000 dong and benefactors are covering the rest.