1999-04-05 00:00:00

Renewed efforts to popularize the Bible by adapting its inspired words to the traditional formats of folk poems and songs have been well received by ordinary Catholics in Vietnam.

A thousand copies of "Message of Love," an adaptation of the four Gospels in popular couplet verses by Father Francois Xavier Nguyen Xuan Van of central Qui Nhon diocese, were sold out in a few months.

"Many people have encouraged me to have it reprinted," the 77-year-old priest told UCA News. The 414-page book was published by Hue-based state-run Thuan Hoa publishing house last September.

"I completed the book in 1978, but only last year did I dare to apply for a printing permit," the priest said noting that "of the first 1,000 copies, 300 were ordered by Kon Tum diocese."

Poetry with alternating lines of six and eight syllables called "luc bat" is popular with the Vietnamese, Father Van said, adding that Scripture rewritten in this poetic genre helps ordinary Catholics take the Good News to heart.

The parish priest of Tuy Hoa parish, some 550 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh, also said that Vietnamese mothers recite folk poems in luc bat to lull their children to sleep in their cradles.

"Many catechists in my diocese have used ´Message of Love´ to teach catechism to children. Some of these children have told me that it is not difficult to memorize its verses," he said.

"Buddhist monks who read my work recently told me that they like it," Father Van added. "I am just trying to sow the seeds of God´s word, and the rest is done by him," he said.

An official of the Religious Affairs Bureau of Phu Yen province, who asked to remain anonymous, told UCA News, "I read ´Message of Hope´ at a single sitting and found it easier to understand than the Gospel in prose."

Le Quan Thu, a member of Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese´s Committee of Church Music, said the book is one of the most grandiose literary works so far.

Its 9,764 verses describe the journey of Jesus in such "a smooth, elegant and artistic narrative style that readers can grasp the importance of God´s word in their daily life," Thu said.

"It is amazing to see Catholic publications among religious publications, including Buddhist ones, published by well-known state-run publishers such as Ho Chi Minh City and Thuan Hoa publishing houses," he added.

Le Dinh Bang, a researcher in Christian faith and culture, wrote recently that "in the present era of sophisticated audiovisual technology and revolutionizing cyberspace, people tend to hear and see rather than read and meditate. The ´Message of Love´ might be seen as going upstream."

Other recent Catholic publications include "Kinh Thanh Dien Ca" (the Bible in verse) by Father An Ton and "Truong Ca Cuu Do" (salvation long poem) by Father Joseph Dinh Cao Thuan.

An Ton is the pen name of a priest in Xuan Loc diocese, while Father Thuan is pastor of Xay Dung parish in Ho Chi Minh City. Their works have been published for private circulation only pending printing permits.

"Kinh Thanh Dien Ca" is a 200-page book of luc bat verse based on Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs and the Book of Wisdom. The first 500 copies were sold out at 10,000 dong (about U.S. 70 cents) per copy, a Church source reported.

Father An Ton has interpreted the entire Bible in verse, but he will need more time to have the whole work printed, the same source added.

"Truong Ca Cuu Do," an adaptation of a work by French historian Daniel Rops, describes the life of Jesus Christ the Redeemer in 4,864 luc bat verses.

Hoang Xuan Viet, a well-known researcher in Catholic circles, said Father Thuan is continuing the effort of foreign missioners, native priests and laypeople such as Alexandre de Rhodes, Lu-y Doan, Leopold Cadiere, Petrus Truong Vinh Ky, Han Mac Tu and Xuan Ly Bang.

"But what I specifically appreciate in Father Thuan´s works is that although he is already in his 70s, he has just made a significant contribution to the cultural heritage of the local Church in response to the call for inculturation of the Christian faith by the Asian Synod," he added.


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