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New 2,000-Seat Cathedral Inaugurated In Thai Binh Diocese

Updated: November 06, 2007 05:00 PM GMT
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An elderly bishop in northern Vietnam, who hopes to retire at the end of the year, is being lauded for building "the most beautiful of all cathedrals in Vietnam."

Thai Binh diocese´s new cathedral is "a precious gem" that Bishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Sang has given "to local Catholics before he retires," remarked Bishop Joseph Hoang Van Tiem of Bui Chu during the cathedral´s consecration Mass. He delivered the homily at the Oct. 13 liturgy.

He was not the only one to praise Bishop Sang, 76, during the Mass for building the Gothic and Vietnamese-style cathedral.

Monsignor Thomas Tran Trung Ha, head of the diocese´s building and advisory committees, said the bishop "had done his best to complete the new cathedral and other facilities as his last efforts to serve the diocese."

Twenty-five archbishops and bishops and 140 priests from throughout the country joined Bishop Sang as he led the consecration ceremony. About 20,000 people including Religious, seminarians and other Catholics attended as did local government representatives.

Benefactors provided the 15 billion dong (US$940,000) needed to build the two-story, cross-shaped cathedral. Construction began in December 2005.

The upper floor, used for liturgical services, can seat 2,000 people, while the ground floor has rooms for meetings, catechism classes and other activities. It also has a car park. The building has two 46-meter-high towers.

The cathedral compound also hosts a four-story pastoral center, a Catholic bookstore and a free clinic.

Bishop Sang told UCA News on Oct. 18 that he decided to build a new cathedral because the old one was in poor condition and posed a danger to worshippers.

Additionally, the prelate purchased decorations and musical instruments for the cathedral, and composed poems and songs that were sung by the choir during the consecration Mass.

Bishop Sang said he would retire as soon as Pope Benedict XVI accepts the resignation letter he sent in accord with canon law when he turned 75 last year. This year is the last of the diocese´s three-year jubilee program marking its 70th anniversary. Thai Binh vicariate was established in 1936.

Before the Oct. 13 ceremony began, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi and Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat, president of the Vietnam Bishops´ Conference, cut a red ribbon at the cathedral´s main door.

During the three-hour ceremony, those who could not fit inside the church viewed the proceedings on large video screens set up on the ground floor, corridors and around the cathedral yard. The yard has 100 statues of the Blessed Mother, Vietnamese martyrs, other saints and angels, as well as the Stations of the Cross.

A member of Thai Binh´s Sa Cat parish told UCA News that Bishop Sang "will be best remembered as the bishop who had contributed greatly to the diocese´s development." The man said he has asked his relatives and friends working abroad to come home and see the new cathedral.

Joseph Nguyen Van Minh, a cathedral parishioner, said he earlier regretted that the former 100-year-old cathedral had to be demolished. The construction of the new building was then delayed for almost a year because the local government withheld permission, and many people blamed Bishop Sang for being hasty in pulling down the old church, he recalled.

However, everyone is "satisfied now that the new cathedral has been successfully completed," added Minh, 57.

Hierominus Tran Duc Phu, head of the cathedral parish council, told UCA News that even non-practicing local Catholics helped clean the new church before the inauguration ceremony.

The day before the consecration, 5,000 young people gathered in the cathedral yard for a catechism quiz. They gave cultural performances, played games and asked Bishop Sang questions about faith, morals and other matters.

A Church source told UCA News that on Oct. 18, officials of Vietnam´s Public Security Ministry asked Bishop Sang to invite all foreign ambassadors to visit the cathedral. The bishop´s house will give booklets with information on the cathedral to these visitors as gifts, the source added.

As of Dec. 31, 2006, Thai Binh diocese had 119,690 Catholics in a population of 2,994,000, served by 53 priests, 101 Religious, 49 seminarians and 940 catechists.


(Accompanying photos available at here)

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