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November 05 1998

Vietnamese bishops have issued a pastoral letter that focuses on the Message of the Synod for Asia in conjunction with their Seventh Plenary Assembly Oct. 11-17 in the nation´s capital.

Following is the English translation of the pastoral letter, issued Oct. 15.

Pastoral Letter of the Vietnam Bishops´ Conference

To: Priests, Religious, Seminarians and all the laity

1. Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We, the Bishops, gathered in the Holy Spirit, joyfully extend to you our warmest greetings in Jesus Christ, and also wish to communicate to you some information on the Seventh Plenary Assembly (1998) of the Vietnam Bishops´ Conference and the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia. We will then highlight a number of points in the message of the Synod addressed to all the members of the People of God in Asia, and finally turn our hearts to the preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000.

I. Information

A. On the seventh Assembly of the Vietnam Bishops´ Conference

2. Participating in this year´s plenary assembly held at the Archbishop´s House in Ha Noi October 11-17, 1998, were 25 bishops including a cardinal and two archbishops, and two diocesan administrators; seven bishops were absent due to their advanced age and health problems. The Assembly went on smoothly and was a special time of grace for us. We prayed for the light of the Holy Spirit and felt a deep sense of solidarity with you all.

During the Assembly we shared information with one another, particularly on the following:

a. Pastoral activities in the dioceses;

b. Results of the Synod for Asia held in Rome April 19-May 14, 1998;

c. The success of the La Vang Marian Congress and the program for the closing ceremony in 1999;

d. Preparations for the Jubilee of the Year 2000;

e. Lastly, we elected the Standing Committee of the Vietnam Bishops´ Conference for the new term of 1998-2001.

B. On the Synod for Asia

3. You have heard much about this Synod. This is a major event for the vast Asian continent, which is both religiously diverse and culturally rich in terms of lifestyles and customs, and which is at the same time faced with newly emerging problems as a result of rapid changes in many areas.

We would like to highlight some major points related to the contribution by the Vietnam Bishops´ Conference.

a. During the preparation for the Synod, Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa was invited to join the Central Preparatory Committee. Our bishops´ conference sent in a contribution that captured the interest of worldwide public opinion.

b. In the course of the Synod, the Vietnamese bishops shared experiences learned in the areas of catechesis and pastoral practices in their efforts toward inculturation and toward meeting the needs of society. We highlighted essentially the following issues:

-- 1. How to talk about God the Father and the Church in the context of the culture of Vietnamese society which is founded on the family;

-- 2. How to know that the Spirit is at work among all the people of good will, especially the people of other faiths (cf. Lumen Gentium, 16);

-- 3. How to make Vietnamese Catholics recognize God in the practice of ancestor worship and better understand filial piety.

Our concerns were echoed in the message of the Synod, which is addressed to all members of the People of God in Asia.

II. Some Major Points to be Highlighted in the Message of the Synod for Asia

In this letter we would like to highlight some of the major points found in the message of the Synod and offer a number of suggestions for you to apply in your concrete life.

4. Role of the Laity

The laity have an important role to play in the Church. Many signs indicate that the Spirit is entrusting them with an even greater role in the coming millennium. Many laypersons and lay groups are taking an active and enthusiastic part in evangelization as well as in the building up of the Church in many localities.

In the early years of the Church in Vietnam, it was the laity who played an important role in animating the life of the faithful. The reason for that was not a priest shortage, but mainly because the laity were conscious of their role in the Church.

The role of the laity has been continually clarified since the Second Vatican Council. Do show more zeal in your service to your parish communities and in the formation of the youth and children so that they can become authentic Catholics, with a view to developing the parish community into a family in which God is the Father and all of you are brothers and sisters in Christ and united by the Spirit.

5. Your mission consists of spreading the light of the Good News into all the domains of life through economic, political, social and cultural activities. This mission requires from you a deep commitment to all professions so as to build up a social community with a soul filled with Christ.

Our society is coming under attack by many social ills as a result of poverty and a consumeristic way of life. The current rural-urban migration is posing many problems, especially ethical ones. You have to defend yourselves and your children and others against the grip of social ills and help them live a decent life endowed with human dignity. Only when you are present in all areas of social life can you contribute to the preservation of the living environment, i.e., the natural environment and the moral environment in particular.

Your active engagement along with our fellow countrymen constitutes the practical basis for a dialogue that is capable of bringing about mutual understanding, respect and love among Vietnamese people, believers and non-believers alike, regardless of their religious affiliation. The Good News of Jesus Christ, characterized by love and communion, is also a deep encounter between the Good News and Vietnamese culture, a culture founded on fellowship and filial piety as the cornerstone of social ethics.

6. To prepare yourselves for such an engagement, you should actively collaborate with your priests in organizing and participating in special catechetical programs for people of all ages, and share your lived experiences of the Word of God as a link that elicits mutual understanding and support.

Moreover, "living the Gospel amid the nation," (cf. The 1980 Common Letter), a nation imbued with a religious tradition based on contemplation, you are also invited to discover and live the contemplative dimension of Christ in a deeper way. As disciples of Christ, you are invited to follow him not only in action but also in contemplation. Contemplation is not only an exclusive gift for Religious, but also a dimension of the Christian vocation. Contemplation consists primarily of deepening the thirst for God (cf. Psalm 41:2-3). To do so, let us listen to and meditate on the word of God through the example of Mary, who "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

The thirst for God will give us the strength to enable us to live our life on earth and the light to enlighten our choices and decisions in any circumstances, as "now your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path" (cf. Psalms 118, 105).

7. The Role of the Family

"The family is the domestic Church located at the core of the Christian community. The home is the first school. Parents are the first teachers. The first textbook for the child is the relationships within the family, between parents themselves and with their children, and with other families" (Message of the Synod for Asia, 5).

The family is the Church at home and the basic unit of the Church. The family is the community for worship and religious practice, the place where faith, hope and love are manifested and nurtured. The home is the place where the first lessons about prayer and love for God and for people are learned and taught.

Praying in the home and daily life review would bring love and unity to the family. It is a warm and loving atmosphere within the family blessed by faithfulness in conjugal life, filial piety and fraternal harmony that teaches us how to love while being loved.

You are invited to renew prayer life within your families, particularly to spend time in listening and meditating on the word of God as we are reminded by the Synod for Asia: "The word of God should have a central place in our lives and should nourish us spiritually. The Bible is not an ordinary book, but rather the living voice of the living God" (Message, 5). We encourage solidarity among families, especially among young couples, in order to help each other overcome difficulties and promote family life.

8. Role of Women

"One of the significant signs of the times is the awakening of women´s consciousness of their dignity and equality with men" (Message, 5).

In Vietnamese society, women have made a significant contribution. Most of the time they play a decisive role attending to all housework and rearing their children, and many of them have been admired for their sacrifices for our society and our country. But there still is a pervasive mentality whereby "men are respected while women are despised" and instances of women´s dignity being hurt, such as in abortion and prostitution. Women in the Church never cease to contribute to faith formation and the promotion of community life. They also offer their children to the service to the Church, whether it is for family life, consecrated or priestly life. However, we have not yet fully promoted the role of women within the community and in their service to the Church.

9. Role of the Youth

The Asian Synod has spoken about youth in the following terms:

"Youth are the hope of Asia and of the Church. The need of the hour is that the Church give youth the formation they need. ... We recognize with gratitude and wish to harness the evangelizing power of youth already at work in the shaping of a better future for the Church and society" (Message, 5).

It is evident that how today´s youth are cared for will determine the future of the country and the Church in Vietnam. So we call on you, young people, to be conscious of and take on your responsibility in the building up of "the future common house" of humankind. Building the house of the future consists primarily of nourishing your own personality and developing yourselves toward maturity. In that way you can exert your rights and fulfill your duties responsibly and in genuine freedom.

In order to build up the future of the country and of the Church, you need to nurture your own moral and intellectual capabilities so that your service will be more efficient. Do keep in mind that eagerness to improve your intellectual capability also means eagerness to perfect yourselves in your own profession so that you can serve in humility and unselfishness. We always need loyal and dutiful persons of talent and virtue who have a high sense of faithfulness in social relationships.

The youth, whether living in rural or urban areas, have the same responsibility to develop personality, talent and vocation, and to contribute to social advancement in every respect -- economically, culturally, etc. -- according to your own particular living conditions. For you are the active agents in the construction of peace and happiness. The apostolic exhortation on the laity has had adequate judgment about youth: "Sensitive as they are, youth are deeply conscious of such values as justice, non-violence, peace. ... They have a generous heart that welcomes fraternity, friendship and solidarity. Youth mobilize themselves for the promotion of a better quality of life and the protection of nature" (Christifideles Laici, no. 46).

10. Your responsibility is indeed noble, and also difficult to fulfill, but you always have Christ who is journeying with you. As Christians you will journey along with Christ who equips you with such spiritual luggage as the Sacraments, the Eucharist and Penance in particular. You are further supported by the word of God and the Church teachings when you pray with good faith and willingly receive the guidance of experienced adults.

With regard to listening to and collaborating with those who are responsible for the family and the Church, we also recognize the constraints of a generation gap in terms of awareness, behavior and expectations among people of different ages. This gap sometimes takes away from you a sense of self-reliance. But with the tradition of acceptance and the dutifulness inherent to the Asian family, you can apply Christian love in order to live harmoniously as Paul has advised in the following terms: "Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people´s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes" (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7).

11. Migrant People Who Make a Living in New Settlements

"Special attention must be paid to migrant workers" (Message, 5).

At present our country is witnessing increasing waves of migrant people in search of a better life, from north to south, between provinces or from rural to urban areas. This phenomenon is putting us, the youth in particular, in the face of many problems that challenge ethical values and the meaning of love, marriage and family life. Parishes and local Christian communities should care for these people with benevolence and in the spirit of mutual support.

Talking about migration, we cannot ignore the root cause of outmigration which resides in the situation of the countryside. In the process of urbanization and modernization of the country, rural areas are most disadvantaged economically, culturally and socially. All developing countries are being faced with the same problem. Those who live in rural areas should be the first to be aware of this phenomenon in order to assist one another.

12. Role of the Intelligentsia

Intellectuals are engaging in many areas such as science and technology, economics, social welfare, medicine, education, etc. We are proud of your contribution to society. By being present in these areas, you are in fact giving witness to God, who has created man and entrust him with the task of managing the earth; you are also proving that faith and authentic science do not contradict each other. We wish that faith, hope and love will enlighten you as well as further motivate you in your commitment to bringing science to the service of life and as a witness to the merciful God who always wants everybody to live and live abundantly.

In many areas of life the Church needs your contribution as you are endowed with much intellect and speculative reflection.

13. Interreligious Dialogue and Inculturation

According to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the seed of the word of God and the light of truth resides in non-Christian religions. Therefore, when we give witness to Christian faith, we should respect the spiritual and moral values of other religions. All members of the People of God are urged to enter into dialogue and collaboration with people of other faiths in order to build a more just and fraternal society.

"We highlighted the importance of inculturation so that ´the Church become a more intelligible sign of what she is and a more effective instrument of mission´" (Message, 5).

Inculturation does not mean something in vogue or nostalgia, but the search for the encounter between the Good News and the soul of the nation, in order to establish a way of living and express faith in accordance with the cultural traditions of the nation.

14. Role of Religious

"The witness of monastic and contemplative communities is particularly called for to reveal the authentic countenance of Jesus; likewise the life and work of consecrated men and women" (Message, 5).

Throughout the some 400-year history of the Church in Vietnam, Religious have played a very important role in evangelization. From the outset there was the presence of lay catechists and the Lovers of the Holy Cross. They were the prime fruits of consecrated life, which has been continually enriched and now seems to reap a rich harvest.

The apostolic exhortation on "Consecrated Life" (Vita Consecrata) invites both men and women Religious to dedicate their life to honor the glory of the Triune God and spread the glorious light of Jesus Christ. Your life itself is the first and foremost witness. All your activities can have meaning only if they come from a deep communion with the Triune God and reveal God´s love: "The evangelizer should be a contemplative in action" (Redemptoris Missio, 91).

Society always has workers who provide social welfare or educational services and who do not necessarily have to adopt consecrated life. Therefore your specific contribution is Christ himself and his love (cf. Vita Consecrata, 17-22).

The vow of poverty reminds you that you are following the example of Jesus to become poor and live among the poor and for the poor, and to specifically concern yourselves with all existing forms of poverty in our country.

The function of Religious who opt for the contemplative life consists of "showing forth Christ in contemplation on the mountain" (Lumen Gentium, 46). From time immemorial, the Vietnamese soul has been imbued with religious traditions, and consecrated life is always linked to contemplation and manifested as a thirst for a deeper search into the mystery of the Absolute. This is also a common feature of Asian peoples, as has been mentioned in the message of the Synod for Asia: "The witness of monastic and contemplative communities is particularly called for to reveal the authentic countenance of Jesus" (Message, 5).

15. Role of Priests

"Christians in Asia need to have zealous pastors and spiritual guides, and not simply efficient administrators. The personal example of formators has a crucial role to play in the formation process" (Message, 5).

You are our closest collaborators by shouldering our pastoral responsibilities. Let us live in communion. As "God´s helpers" (1 Thessalonians 3:2) who tend the flock of God and proclaim the Good News, we should become the "pastors as wished for by God," chiefly by having the heart of Jesus Christ who "loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her," (Ephesians 5:25) and by behaving as Peter has taught us to "be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you: watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it; not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow" (1 Peter 5:2-4).

16. We should see to it that the flock is united, because Jesus sacrificed his own life to gather the flock (John 11:52-53) and earnestly prayed to the Father for the flock to be one so that "the world will realize that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me" (John 17:23).

In promoting unity, we should also promote harmony between the faithful and their larger community, regardless of religious affiliation and ethnicity. This is also a beatitude: "Happy the peacemakers."

17. Let us revitalize and accept lay collaboration in service to the community of the People of God, promote women´s advancement in society and the Church, and facilitate their participation in the administration and animation of parish life.

Let us be closer and sympathize with the youth with a loving heart and help them attain a better education and mature in faith so that they can live generously, serve everyone and take an active part in parish activities.

Our responsibility as pastors demands that we pay attention to young couples, encourage them to be responsible for each other in order to overcome uncertainties and grow into authentic Christian families.

We should see to it that vocations for consecrated or priestly life are fostered and nurtured so that the flock always has someone to dedicate his or her life to its service.

18. Do concern yourselves with the rural poor and the living conditions in rural areas so as to help develop and improve every aspect of their life. Remind yourselves of what the Apostles advised to themselves when they took on the task of caring for the Jews and the pagans: "The only thing they insisted on was that we should remember to help the poor ..." (Galatians 2:10). Concern for the poor is a priority of the Church and of pastors who continue the mission of the Apostles, because Jesus was "anointed to bring the Good News to the poor" (Luke 4:18). As for those who serve in rural areas, do concern yourselves with the impoverishment and backwardness of the people around you and do not withdraw yourselves into the sacristy.

19. Lastly, we should remember that we have to perform the double task of both leading the flock and proclaiming the Good News. Do not neglect the task of proclaiming the Good News while fulfilling the task of leading the flock. Since this is the mission of the entire Church, we should evoke among the faithful the zeal to bring the Good News to humankind, "because this is the first and foremost service that the Church can offer to everyone and the entire world today, a world that has achieved great conquests, but seems to have lost the meaning of ultimate realities and the meaning of its own existence" (Redemptoris Missio, 2). On the other hand, "the mission of proclaiming the Good News aims at renewing the Church, strengthening Christian faith and identity, brings about new inspirations and motivations. The faith being shared will further consolidate itself" (Redemptoris Missio, 2).

III. Looking Forward to the Jubilee Year 2000

20. We are entering the last of the three years of preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. Let us further speed up the process of renewal of our hearts in Paul´s terms: "Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do" (Romans 12:2).

The theme for 1999, the last year of the three years of preparation, is God the Father. It can be said that the place of God the Father is not emphasized enough in our catechesis and our life. The self-revelation of God has reached its apogee with God the Father. "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father´s heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18). He not only talked about his Father, but also let us call his Father our Father (cf. John 20:17) and let us acknowledge God the Father when we contemplate him (cf. Galatians 4:6). The Spirit is sent into our hearts that cry, "Abba, Father" (cf. Galatians 4:6) and moves us to live as sons of God (cf. Romans 8:14).

The Old Testament relates that God has adopted Israel as his "elder son" (cf. Exodus 4:6), but never did people dare to call him Father as we are taught by Jesus. They just said: "You, Yahweh, yourself are our Father" (cf. Isaiah 63:16; 65:8). It is only the Son of God "because of us and to redeem us" that can allow us to call his Father our Father. That is the apogee of the Good News, the greatest consolation and the greatest joy that Jesus brought us through his Death and Resurrection.

So in the year 1999 we would invite you to learn more from the Good News in order to know more about God the Father as Jesus has revealed to us. That is, in more concrete terms, to learn, meditate and live the "Our Father," the prayer that Jesus taught us so that we can address ourselves cordially to the Father. It is also to reveal to us our Father and show us how to live as his sons as well as to extend our hearts to all our brothers and sisters, because all of us are called to become the sons of God.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

21. While we are waiting for the Holy Father to sum up the results of the Synod for Asia, we would like to invite you to accept the thoughts we just shared with you so that, in communion with Christians in Asia, we can actively prepare ourselves for the third millennium with a stronger faith and a better witness-giving life. While our entire nation is mobilizing its internal strengths for edification and development, a strong faith, a dynamic love and a sustained hope as internal strengths will help us assume our responsibilities, so as to join all people in the fight against evil and social problems with a view to building up a fine and happy life. In that way we can give witness to God our Father who loves humankind and wants us to be happy. It is by that love that God created the universe and humankind, and offered his Only Son to be the Redeemer of humankind and his Spirit to renew everything.

We wish all of you to be filled with "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Corinthians 13:13). Let us turn our hearts to Our Lady of La Vang, the Protector of the faithful, as the Church in Vietnam is celebrating the bicentennial of her apparitions. May she form us into loving and serving people who are full of hope in the Spirit, full of the joy of living the Good News and zealous in the proclamation of the Good News.

Ha Noi, October 17, 1998

Your bishops and diocesan administrators:

1. Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung of Ha Noi

2. Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu The of Hue

3. Archbishop Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City

4. Bishop Paul Huynh Dong Cac of Qui Nhon

5. Bishop Nicholas Huynh Van Nghi of Phan Thiet

6. Bishop Barthelemy Nguyen Son Lam of Thanh Hoa

7. Retired Bishop Alexis Pham Van Loc of Kon Tum

8. Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang

9. Bishop Jean Baptiste Bui Tuan of Long Xuyen

10. Bishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Quang Sach of Da Nang

11. Bishop Paul Nguyen Minh Nhat of Xuan Loc

12. Coadjutor Bishop Raphael Nguyen Van Diep of Vinh Long

13. Bishop Joseph Nguyen Tung Cuong of Hai Phong

14. Bishop Pierre Tran Xuan Hap of Vinh

15. Bishop Joseph Vu Duy Nhat of Bui Chu

16. Bishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Sang of Thai Binh

17. Bishop Pierre Tran Thanh Chung of Kon Tum

18. Bishop Joseph Nguyen Quang Tuyen of Bac Ninh

19. Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Nguyen Van Yen of Phat Diem

20. Coadjutor Bishop Paul Cao Dinh Thuyen of Vinh

21. Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat

22. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Nguyen Van Tram of Xuan Loc

23. Auxiliary Bishop Paul Le Dac Trong of Ha Noi

24. Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Nguyen Tich Duc of Ban Me Thuot

25. Coadjutor Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nho of Nha Trang

26. Father Michel Le Van Kham, diocesan administrator of Phu Cuong

27. Father Joseph Nguyen Thai Ha, diocesan administrator of Hung Hoa