A SKETCH OF THE EVANGELIZATION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN BAC NINH DIOCESE TODAY CHALLENGES AND HOPES

A SKETCH OF THE EVANGELIZATION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN BAC NINH DIOCESE TODAY CHALLENGES AND HOPES

I. INTRODUCTION

 

The Diocese of Bac Ninh is located in Northeast of Vietnam, covering the total area of  five provinces (i.e. Bac Ninh, Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Vinh Phuc, Bac Kan) and some districts of seven other provinces (i.e. Hanoi, Tuyen Quang, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, and Ha Giang). Although the population of the whole area reaches about 9,000,000 people, there are about 125,000 Catholics. The people in the Red River delta live on agriculture, while people in mountainous areas earn their living mainly from forestry products.

Besides the Viet people who represent the majority of the population, there are also some tribes scattered in mountainous areas. They are the H’mong, Dao, Tay, Nung, Cao Lan, Hoa, Meo, and San Diu ethnics. This very complex context of the diocese causes a great challenge for doing mission today.

In the last 100 years of its history, the Diocese of Bac Ninh has suffered from severe trials and difficulties and has also undergone great changes, especially since the communists took over the North of Vietnam and the country was split into two regions in 1954. The North Vietnam has been ruled by the communist government while the South Vietnam was democratic. After the signing of the Geneva Agreement in 1954, 47 priests, all seminarians and nearly 40.000 Catholics migrated to the South. Remaining in the diocese were 14 old priests, 12 catechists, 11 Dominican Sisters and about 30.000 Catholics. Moreover, many churches and other foundations of the diocese were confiscated by the communist government. During the war time from 1946 to 1954, 250 out of 300 churches were destroyed. Since that time has taken place a great movement of migration from the delta to the mountainous areas; among them there are several thousand of Catholics. Therefore, there have been a great need to build churches for those communities.

From 1955 to 1994, the number of priests in the diocese has declined. In 1994, before the ordination of first two priests since 1954, the number of priests in the diocese was only three. Only after the reopening of the major seminary of Hanoi in 1989, the number of priests has increased. At present the diocese has 43 priests, taking care of 81 parishes and more than 300 sub-parishes with about 120,000 Catholics. Because of those difficulties the diocese had to train the faithful to become evangelists. This program has begun since the time of bishop Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung (1963-1994), and continued in the office of bishop Joseph Mary Nguyen Quang Tuyen (1994-2006).

Actually, during their time of office, Bishop Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung and Joseph Mary Nguyen Quang Tuyen established and reinforced the parish councils, and encouraged praying in the family. It was the late Bishop Paul Joseph who founded the Society of the Daughters of Our Lady of Unity in order to help catechize in parishes. Those bishops also trained the laity to become missionaries and had them sent all over the Diocese to proclaim the Good News.  Thanks to those institutions, the faithful of the diocese could keep their faith and live it out through trials and difficulties.

 

II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF EVANGELIZATION IN BAC NINH

 

1. Present Facts of Evangelization

 

Realizing that proclaiming the Good News is the very nature of a pilgrim Church (Ad Gentes, 2), a countless number of evangelists have traveled up hills and down dales in order to bring the Good News to their brothers and sisters anywhere in Bac Ninh.  Thanks to the heroic faith life of our martyr ancestors and the zealous missionaries, the faith has constantly developed and has been handed down to our generations as an invaluable heritage.

Throughout the Diocesan history and up to now, the People of God in Bac Ninh always remain aware of their mission of evangelization. They have continually made efforts to fulfill Jesus Christ’s command: “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Mt 28:19)

Proclaiming the Good News always encounters numerous difficulties, including arrest and imprisonment, our evangelists have been brave to bring the Good News everywhere, for they strongly believe that “If God is for us, who can be against us.” (Rom 8:31), and they are always aware of Jesus’ presence with us and among us: The Lord is at the very center of our life and our mission.

In order to heed the challenges of evangelization in present time, many Catholic Associations have been founded in Bac Ninh, such as Saint Joseph Association (Hoi Thanh Giu Se), the Rosary Association (Hoi Man Coi) established in all parishes, especially The Evangelizing Youth Team (Nhom Tre Truyen Giao) which are laboring effectively.

 

2. Challenges to Evangelization

 

These are challenges we are facing in these days:

The dialogue seems not easy with religions (such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism) and beliefs (such as Mother Worship, Ancestor Worship, Worship of Nature, Worship of Heaven and so on) which were integrated in Vietnamese culture several thousand of years ago and have been deeply rooted in the life style and mentality of the people of Bac Ninh.

The political situation is one of our biggest challenges. Up to now, the Catholic people have been still treated as second class citizens and are accused as subversives by the communist government. The Church is not allowed to take charge of education, run charitable causes, or contribute to the promotion of human development. Obviously, the Church is not free to proclaim the Good News to our fellow citizens, neither owns any media for the proclamation purpose.

The globalization stream – through its influences and impacts – enters all fields of life. It affects the peaceful life both in rural and urban environments. It also creates a mass wave of labor migration from the poor rural areas to big cities and/or overseas. Many of migrant workers are victims of discrimination and violence in cities and/or their working countries. Besides, the human dignity is abused widely, many families have been broken, thousands of unborn babies aborted each year, the youth faces the declining of moral conscience and loses self-confidence…

The same globalization movement and the actual global financial crisis have also aggravated the poverty, due to cheap, exploited labor, and high rates of unemployment. According to some estimation, for instance, there will be more than 400,000 workers to be losing their jobs in 2009. This has put a heavier burden on the workers themselves and their families. Besides, those living depending on agriculture, suffer also from natural calamities which happen every year, like typhoons from the Pacific Ocean, drought, flood.

On the moral aspect, the young develops wrong concepts of individual freedom; the premarital cohabitation has become widespread to the detriment of noble traditional values like respect for life and loyalty in marriage and abortion. Our youth is really undergoing crisis, conflict and confusion of values, leading to a values vacuum.

At school, children are educated according to the materialistic atheism; they only base their knowledge on the experimental sciences, and reject all things outside materials as ideals or superstitions. As an result, the youth runs after the selfish enjoyment of materialism, loses their self-respect and honesty, considers deceits in business, study, examination, corruption as normal.

 

3. Perspective of Evangelization

 

In the light of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on mission, Bac Ninh diocese is entering into a new phase of its existence. A new page has really begun in our diocese. Most of Catholics have become more aware of their role: letting themselves enlightened by the Gospel, empowered by the sacraments especially the Eucharist, and emboldened to proclaim the Good News to our brothers and sisters.

Besides, those challenges of today world mentioned above, bring advantages to the proclamation of the Good News. The visible sign of a greater thirst for the divine, the huge religious and cultural revival taking place in various parts of the country, the decline of the communist ideology, the ongoing worldwide economic crisis… have made the Word of God be listened by more and more people.

Bac Ninh is not exempt from that common spiritual movement. It constitutes a vast land for mission. Actually, the Evangelization Youth Team was established 3 years ago to provide lay missionaries for the diocese, as well as for our sister dioceses and neighboring countries. At the present, Bac Ninh has 68 priests, 45 seminarians, 70 candidates of seminary, 220 sisters of a secular Institute, 5 sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, 52 sisters of Dominican, 957 catechists, 50 lay missionaries who are laboring for mission. Moreover, thousands of members of different catholic associations in parishes offer invaluable human resources and hope to awake the new dawn for mission in Bac Ninh.

We truly feel the grace of the Holy Spirit calling us to a renewed commitment for evangelization. These Words of Jesus keep stirring our hearts: “I must preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God in other towns also, because that is what God sent me to do.” (Lk 4:40)

 

III.  EVANGELIZATION IN BAC NINH TODAY

Doing the mission is the very nature of the Church, because the Church took her source from the mission of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit according to the intention of the Father. Jesus Christ, during his time on earth, did this mission by reaching out to the people without any discrimination wherever he was present. After having been raised to heaven, Jesus ordered his disciples to go everywhere on the earth to tell the Good News to people of all races and languages.

Obeying his command, the disciples – since the beginning of the Church – have reached out to the environments that need the Light of the Gospel and brought the Good News to all nations. Thanks to the zealous missionaries from generations to generations, the Light of the Gospel has been approached people of all races. Being Catholic, we are invited in our turn to bring the Good News to the people who have not yet received it. Let us follow the footsteps of our ancestors missionaries, reaching out to the nations and bringing them the Good News.

 

  1. 1.    In the Footsteps of Missionaries.

 

As mentioned above, doing mission is the duty coming from the nature of the church. It is also the task of all Catholics who received the Sacrament of Baptism. It is the call, the invitation and the command of Jesus that our ancestors in faith have fulfilled generously and ardourly. The first missionaries in Bac Ninh Diocese were Dominicans, Jesuits and M.E.P. members. Besides, the first generations of Catholics suffered from persecution for centuries. The diocese was blessed of several hundred martyrs from that long periods.  No matter how risky and dangerous it was, they did not care for themselves, they were brave to preach Good News to the people they met. Thanks to their labor, the Good News keep reaching out to the end of the earth. However, up to now, there still have so many people who have not yet heard the Good News. That urges us to go out to do our mission; to bring the Good News to the people around us.

Looking into the statistics of the Church in Vietnam, we could not but feel ashamed, since after more than four hundred years of doing mission, the proportion of the faithful in our country has not yet reached 8% (out of  more than 85 million people of the country). In Bac Ninh, that proportion is even lower: 1.35% (only 120,000 Catholics out of 9 million people). Again, those figures urge our Catholics in Bac Ninh diocese to put forward our mission both to non-catholic people in lowland and to tribal people in mountainous areas.

 

  1. 2.    Reaching out to the Environments that Need the Light of the Gospel.

As mentioned above, the need of evangelization is very demanding in Bac Ninh Diocese. Indeed, looking into the distribution of the Catholic population, we can easily find many places where the presence of the Catholics is none.

Moreover, in the past, because of the lack of pastors, many tribal Catholics living far from the Bishop’s house could hardly receive the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Marriage. Consequently, their children and grandchildren can not keep and live out their faith. Those descendants just only know that their ancestors were Catholics but they themselves have no ideas about the Catholic Faith.

Also, due the lack of pastors in such a long time, even the Catholics in urban environments were not taught much about catechism or the truths of the Gospel. Many are only Catholics in appearance without practicing their faith at all. With the challenges of the globalization and pluralism, the young people in urban areas are facing many difficulties in keeping their faith. Also, many adolescents under 15 years old have to earn their living away from home without having a well equipped baggage of catechism in order to cope with faith challenges. Those facts also asks us to think seriously about the urgent needs of re-evangelization.

Once again, those facts call the goodwill Catholics in Bac Ninh to open their heart and commit themselves more and more to the mission, each person in his/her way according to his/her status, as it was written in the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Vietnam in 2003: Be present in every environment of Vietnam, because there is nothing of the people that is far from or strange with the Church (GS no. 1). The Church have to preach Jesus to every people and make him known to everyone. Gospel must be integrated into every aspect of people today.”

 

  1. 3.    Doing Mission with Suitable Means for Today People

 

How can we evangelize people today who are strongly influenced by consumerism, by science and technology? The pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Vietnam has offered the guideline for it, when saying: “The foundation of doing mission is prayer and the attitude of readiness to follow Jesus, under the guideline of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, prayer always plays an important role in doing mission at any time. Without prayer, mission cannot bear fruits. However, the presence of the missionary is also very important because the witness is more important than teachings. Missionaries are advised to know how to use proper means to bring good effects in doing mission.

Such ideas are written clearly in the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Vietnam: “So that the truth of the Gospel to be clear, be understandable, be receivable, missionaries have to know how to use proper means to preach the Good News for the people in our time. These proper means are bright and clear language.” Actually, the truths of the Gospel will be easily integrated in the souls of the people only when it is preached in native languages. Also, missionaries have to preach the Good News with humble attitude, spirit of dialogue, and respecting manner to indigenous cultures. That is also the attitude that Vatican II Council recommended. However, in order to comply to the instructions of the Council, our missionaries should have been prepared more adequately; also they should come to live among aboriginal people in their villages and learn their dialects in order to proclaim the Gospel in the local dialects.

IV. CONCRETE TASKS

 

  1. 1.    Formation and Training Main-Power for Evangelization Activities

 

 

  • The very first measure in order to promote evangelization is to encourage all People of God to pray for the missionary activities. Besides, so that the evangelization be fruitful, there are other factors:

+ Educate the People of God to witness for the Gospel by their way of living: charity and union of hearts.

+Training main-power (lay people, religious, priests) for the mission, at the same time on humanity and spiritual life, as well as on  intellectual and pastoral skills.

+ Furthermore, other material means are also crucial for the mission effectiveness, such as books, means of transportation, missionary stations, churches and chapels where the faithful can gather to pray and learn catechism.

  • Apart from looking for financial resource for mission and training new members of the Evangelization Youth Team in each Province, each parish should establish an Evangelization Fraternity for all goodwill parishioners who will collaborate to the evangelization on its own territory under the guidance of the pastor and according to the policy of the Diocesan Evangelization Committee.

 

  • Making plans in details for evangelization in each region of the Diocese; organizing formation and training sessions to help develop evangelization skills to missionaries, catechists, parishioners, Catholic students and intelligentsia; organizing missionary forum and dialogue with other religions.

 

  • The parishes’ Evangelization Fraternities should promote prayer for mission, have training sessions and mobilize all parishioners for the work of evangelization. Long-established Evangelization Fraternity should link up with the new ones in remote areas for mutual assistance and help.

 

2. Reaching out to Others

r The Evangelization Youth Team.  In reality, some of those mission activities described above have been carried out in Bac Ninh Diocese; especially the work of the Evangelization Youth Team – started 4 years ago – have born first fruits. In fact, 86 lay missionaries have settled in different remote or mountainous areas in the Diocese to live and work with local people, witnessing for the Good News by their daily life and preaching. Those young missionaries are supported partly from the Diocese’s missionary funds. Every month they come back to the Bishop’s House for retreat and sharing mission experiences. Every year, they take part to a two-week training session in Bible and catechism, in life and communication skills, in leadership, etc. The challenges they are facing now is to learn different dialects of minority ethnics. Also, the Diocese Evangelization Committee needs to raise fund for the training and support to those young missionaries, as well as for the translation and publication of religious books in minority dialects.

         

r  Evangelization through Dialogue. Evangelization through dialogue is also our chosen methodology. In fact there exist in Vietnam great traditions of religions and beliefs for thousand years (such as the ancestral worship, animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism…)  In fact, Bac Ninh was the very first place where Buddhism implanted in Vietnam, with several Buddhist temples dated from the 2nd century. It was from those Buddhist centers that that religion has spreaded all over the North and Centre of Vietnam in centuries. Consequently, our evangelization program commits to bring the Gospel value to all parts of Bac Ninh, lying in witnessing and dialogue of faith and life, Gospel and culture, Church and society. Furthermore, our priests and missionaries occasionally visit all people no matter they are from any religions, they are communists or atheists: congratulating them on happy events (like the Vietnamese New Year, the Birthday of Buddha, different feasts in other religions); consoling them on their sad and unfortunate occasions. We believe that those visits can make the Gospel alive and help people who are not Catholics “to identify the portrait of Jesus, the Savior, and understand better our religion.”

         

r  Evangelization through Inculturation. Nowadays, inculturation is an inseparable element of evangelization. It represents a way of “living the Gospel in the midst of people”. While doing so, we use values of the traditional culture to express our Christian faith on one hand, and bring traditional culture into harmony with the Christian faith on the other hand. That is a mutual exchange of gifts or a cross-cultural sharing between faith and culture. In the process of inculturation in Bac Ninh, we have emphasized especially on some significant fields such as: we promote the filial piety with parents, ancestors and God, as well as the universal brotherhood which are very much highlighted in Confucianist tradition. We have been composing liturgical hymns using folk songs’ melody and/or classical drama; writing poems and stories to express catechism; using solely Vietnamese language and Vietnamese patterns of thought in the liturgy and the communication of faith. Also, we have implemented the traditional architecture (temples in oriental shape and style) in church building, composed liturgical hymns based on Bac Ninh folk songs (Quan Ho Bac Ninh), organized liturgical events (Christmas, Holy Week) integrating  features from traditional village festivals (procession, hymns, dramas, traditional musical instruments).

 

3. Performing Charitable Work

Concrete charitable works can be done through activities such as providing relief for disaster victims and helping the poor in all aspects. Long-term charitable work should be aimed at comprehensive development to help the poor live with human dignity, as “development is the new name for peace” (Progressio Populorum). Social and charitable activities are more easily accepted because “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41).

Authentic discipleship naturally flows into generous service of love for others. This is not foreign evangelization. Evangelization has to be holistic and contextual. As Pope Paul VI affirmed: evangelization calls for integral liberation from sin most especially but also from every thing else that oppresses the human person such as ignorance, sickness, and poverty. Concretely, we are concerned of the poor people, sickness and voiceless, such as: granting scholarships to poor children; providing basic health cares; holding classes to eliminate illiteracy; assistance to old people; taking care of orphans, invalid and HIV/AIDS patients; building small houses and clean water program for the remote and poor areas.

Up to now, the diocese has already had a clinic for the poor, a nursing home for paralyzed patients, medical dispensaries in remote parishes; we are providing pastoral, medical and charitable services to four leprosaria in the diocese. In order to maintain those activities, we need support and assistance from goodwill people.

V. CONCLUSION

 

Towards a new evangelization in this new millennium, we pledge to striving to live authentic lives so that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ can penetrate into the mind and heart of the population in Bac Ninh and help them come to the fellowship with us in the Spirit. We pledge to gaining a better and more dynamic sense of mission and renewing our commitment to the evangelization.

We would like to thank all good will people, benefactors and organizations for their prayer and support. In order to get a good harvest for the mission, we always ask the Holy Spirit to grant to the Diocese abundant graces in the new Pentecost. May the martyrs of Bac Ninh pray for you and your activities serving the Kingdom of God.

 

 Lm. Fx. Nguyen Van Thang

I. INTRODUCTION

 

The Diocese of Bac Ninh is located in Northeast of Vietnam, covering the total area of  five provinces (i.e. Bac Ninh, Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Vinh Phuc, Bac Kan) and some districts of seven other provinces (i.e. Hanoi, Tuyen Quang, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, and Ha Giang). Although the population of the whole area reaches about 9,000,000 people, there are about 125,000 Catholics. The people in the Red River delta live on agriculture, while people in mountainous areas earn their living mainly from forestry products.

Besides the Viet people who represent the majority of the population, there are also some tribes scattered in mountainous areas. They are the H’mong, Dao, Tay, Nung, Cao Lan, Hoa, Meo, and San Diu ethnics. This very complex context of the diocese causes a great challenge for doing mission today.

In the last 100 years of its history, the Diocese of Bac Ninh has suffered from severe trials and difficulties and has also undergone great changes, especially since the communists took over the North of Vietnam and the country was split into two regions in 1954. The North Vietnam has been ruled by the communist government while the South Vietnam was democratic. After the signing of the Geneva Agreement in 1954, 47 priests, all seminarians and nearly 40.000 Catholics migrated to the South. Remaining in the diocese were 14 old priests, 12 catechists, 11 Dominican Sisters and about 30.000 Catholics. Moreover, many churches and other foundations of the diocese were confiscated by the communist government. During the war time from 1946 to 1954, 250 out of 300 churches were destroyed. Since that time has taken place a great movement of migration from the delta to the mountainous areas; among them there are several thousand of Catholics. Therefore, there have been a great need to build churches for those communities.

From 1955 to 1994, the number of priests in the diocese has declined. In 1994, before the ordination of first two priests since 1954, the number of priests in the diocese was only three. Only after the reopening of the major seminary of Hanoi in 1989, the number of priests has increased. At present the diocese has 43 priests, taking care of 81 parishes and more than 300 sub-parishes with about 120,000 Catholics. Because of those difficulties the diocese had to train the faithful to become evangelists. This program has begun since the time of bishop Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung (1963-1994), and continued in the office of bishop Joseph Mary Nguyen Quang Tuyen (1994-2006).

Actually, during their time of office, Bishop Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung and Joseph Mary Nguyen Quang Tuyen established and reinforced the parish councils, and encouraged praying in the family. It was the late Bishop Paul Joseph who founded the Society of the Daughters of Our Lady of Unity in order to help catechize in parishes. Those bishops also trained the laity to become missionaries and had them sent all over the Diocese to proclaim the Good News.  Thanks to those institutions, the faithful of the diocese could keep their faith and live it out through trials and difficulties.

 

II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF EVANGELIZATION IN BAC NINH

 

1. Present Facts of Evangelization

 

Realizing that proclaiming the Good News is the very nature of a pilgrim Church (Ad Gentes, 2), a countless number of evangelists have traveled up hills and down dales in order to bring the Good News to their brothers and sisters anywhere in Bac Ninh.  Thanks to the heroic faith life of our martyr ancestors and the zealous missionaries, the faith has constantly developed and has been handed down to our generations as an invaluable heritage.

Throughout the Diocesan history and up to now, the People of God in Bac Ninh always remain aware of their mission of evangelization. They have continually made efforts to fulfill Jesus Christ’s command: “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Mt 28:19)

Proclaiming the Good News always encounters numerous difficulties, including arrest and imprisonment, our evangelists have been brave to bring the Good News everywhere, for they strongly believe that “If God is for us, who can be against us.” (Rom 8:31), and they are always aware of Jesus’ presence with us and among us: The Lord is at the very center of our life and our mission.

In order to heed the challenges of evangelization in present time, many Catholic Associations have been founded in Bac Ninh, such as Saint Joseph Association (Hoi Thanh Giu Se), the Rosary Association (Hoi Man Coi) established in all parishes, especially The Evangelizing Youth Team (Nhom Tre Truyen Giao) which are laboring effectively.

 

2. Challenges to Evangelization

 

These are challenges we are facing in these days:

The dialogue seems not easy with religions (such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism) and beliefs (such as Mother Worship, Ancestor Worship, Worship of Nature, Worship of Heaven and so on) which were integrated in Vietnamese culture several thousand of years ago and have been deeply rooted in the life style and mentality of the people of Bac Ninh.

The political situation is one of our biggest challenges. Up to now, the Catholic people have been still treated as second class citizens and are accused as subversives by the communist government. The Church is not allowed to take charge of education, run charitable causes, or contribute to the promotion of human development. Obviously, the Church is not free to proclaim the Good News to our fellow citizens, neither owns any media for the proclamation purpose.

The globalization stream – through its influences and impacts – enters all fields of life. It affects the peaceful life both in rural and urban environments. It also creates a mass wave of labor migration from the poor rural areas to big cities and/or overseas. Many of migrant workers are victims of discrimination and violence in cities and/or their working countries. Besides, the human dignity is abused widely, many families have been broken, thousands of unborn babies aborted each year, the youth faces the declining of moral conscience and loses self-confidence…

The same globalization movement and the actual global financial crisis have also aggravated the poverty, due to cheap, exploited labor, and high rates of unemployment. According to some estimation, for instance, there will be more than 400,000 workers to be losing their jobs in 2009. This has put a heavier burden on the workers themselves and their families. Besides, those living depending on agriculture, suffer also from natural calamities which happen every year, like typhoons from the Pacific Ocean, drought, flood.

On the moral aspect, the young develops wrong concepts of individual freedom; the premarital cohabitation has become widespread to the detriment of noble traditional values like respect for life and loyalty in marriage and abortion. Our youth is really undergoing crisis, conflict and confusion of values, leading to a values vacuum.

At school, children are educated according to the materialistic atheism; they only base their knowledge on the experimental sciences, and reject all things outside materials as ideals or superstitions. As an result, the youth runs after the selfish enjoyment of materialism, loses their self-respect and honesty, considers deceits in business, study, examination, corruption as normal.

 

3. Perspective of Evangelization

 

In the light of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on mission, Bac Ninh diocese is entering into a new phase of its existence. A new page has really begun in our diocese. Most of Catholics have become more aware of their role: letting themselves enlightened by the Gospel, empowered by the sacraments especially the Eucharist, and emboldened to proclaim the Good News to our brothers and sisters.

Besides, those challenges of today world mentioned above, bring advantages to the proclamation of the Good News. The visible sign of a greater thirst for the divine, the huge religious and cultural revival taking place in various parts of the country, the decline of the communist ideology, the ongoing worldwide economic crisis… have made the Word of God be listened by more and more people.

Bac Ninh is not exempt from that common spiritual movement. It constitutes a vast land for mission. Actually, the Evangelization Youth Team was established 3 years ago to provide lay missionaries for the diocese, as well as for our sister dioceses and neighboring countries. At the present, Bac Ninh has 68 priests, 45 seminarians, 70 candidates of seminary, 220 sisters of a secular Institute, 5 sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, 52 sisters of Dominican, 957 catechists, 50 lay missionaries who are laboring for mission. Moreover, thousands of members of different catholic associations in parishes offer invaluable human resources and hope to awake the new dawn for mission in Bac Ninh.

We truly feel the grace of the Holy Spirit calling us to a renewed commitment for evangelization. These Words of Jesus keep stirring our hearts: “I must preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God in other towns also, because that is what God sent me to do.” (Lk 4:40)

 

III.  EVANGELIZATION IN BAC NINH TODAY

Doing the mission is the very nature of the Church, because the Church took her source from the mission of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit according to the intention of the Father. Jesus Christ, during his time on earth, did this mission by reaching out to the people without any discrimination wherever he was present. After having been raised to heaven, Jesus ordered his disciples to go everywhere on the earth to tell the Good News to people of all races and languages.

Obeying his command, the disciples – since the beginning of the Church – have reached out to the environments that need the Light of the Gospel and brought the Good News to all nations. Thanks to the zealous missionaries from generations to generations, the Light of the Gospel has been approached people of all races. Being Catholic, we are invited in our turn to bring the Good News to the people who have not yet received it. Let us follow the footsteps of our ancestors missionaries, reaching out to the nations and bringing them the Good News.

 

  1. 1.    In the Footsteps of Missionaries.

 

As mentioned above, doing mission is the duty coming from the nature of the church. It is also the task of all Catholics who received the Sacrament of Baptism. It is the call, the invitation and the command of Jesus that our ancestors in faith have fulfilled generously and ardourly. The first missionaries in Bac Ninh Diocese were Dominicans, Jesuits and M.E.P. members. Besides, the first generations of Catholics suffered from persecution for centuries. The diocese was blessed of several hundred martyrs from that long periods.  No matter how risky and dangerous it was, they did not care for themselves, they were brave to preach Good News to the people they met. Thanks to their labor, the Good News keep reaching out to the end of the earth. However, up to now, there still have so many people who have not yet heard the Good News. That urges us to go out to do our mission; to bring the Good News to the people around us.

Looking into the statistics of the Church in Vietnam, we could not but feel ashamed, since after more than four hundred years of doing mission, the proportion of the faithful in our country has not yet reached 8% (out of  more than 85 million people of the country). In Bac Ninh, that proportion is even lower: 1.35% (only 120,000 Catholics out of 9 million people). Again, those figures urge our Catholics in Bac Ninh diocese to put forward our mission both to non-catholic people in lowland and to tribal people in mountainous areas.

 

  1. 2.    Reaching out to the Environments that Need the Light of the Gospel.

As mentioned above, the need of evangelization is very demanding in Bac Ninh Diocese. Indeed, looking into the distribution of the Catholic population, we can easily find many places where the presence of the Catholics is none.

Moreover, in the past, because of the lack of pastors, many tribal Catholics living far from the Bishop’s house could hardly receive the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Marriage. Consequently, their children and grandchildren can not keep and live out their faith. Those descendants just only know that their ancestors were Catholics but they themselves have no ideas about the Catholic Faith.

Also, due the lack of pastors in such a long time, even the Catholics in urban environments were not taught much about catechism or the truths of the Gospel. Many are only Catholics in appearance without practicing their faith at all. With the challenges of the globalization and pluralism, the young people in urban areas are facing many difficulties in keeping their faith. Also, many adolescents under 15 years old have to earn their living away from home without having a well equipped baggage of catechism in order to cope with faith challenges. Those facts also asks us to think seriously about the urgent needs of re-evangelization.

Once again, those facts call the goodwill Catholics in Bac Ninh to open their heart and commit themselves more and more to the mission, each person in his/her way according to his/her status, as it was written in the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Vietnam in 2003: Be present in every environment of Vietnam, because there is nothing of the people that is far from or strange with the Church (GS no. 1). The Church have to preach Jesus to every people and make him known to everyone. Gospel must be integrated into every aspect of people today.”

 

  1. 3.    Doing Mission with Suitable Means for Today People

 

How can we evangelize people today who are strongly influenced by consumerism, by science and technology? The pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Vietnam has offered the guideline for it, when saying: “The foundation of doing mission is prayer and the attitude of readiness to follow Jesus, under the guideline of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, prayer always plays an important role in doing mission at any time. Without prayer, mission cannot bear fruits. However, the presence of the missionary is also very important because the witness is more important than teachings. Missionaries are advised to know how to use proper means to bring good effects in doing mission.

Such ideas are written clearly in the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Vietnam: “So that the truth of the Gospel to be clear, be understandable, be receivable, missionaries have to know how to use proper means to preach the Good News for the people in our time. These proper means are bright and clear language.” Actually, the truths of the Gospel will be easily integrated in the souls of the people only when it is preached in native languages. Also, missionaries have to preach the Good News with humble attitude, spirit of dialogue, and respecting manner to indigenous cultures. That is also the attitude that Vatican II Council recommended. However, in order to comply to the instructions of the Council, our missionaries should have been prepared more adequately; also they should come to live among aboriginal people in their villages and learn their dialects in order to proclaim the Gospel in the local dialects.

IV. CONCRETE TASKS

 

  1. 1.    Formation and Training Main-Power for Evangelization Activities

 

 

  • The very first measure in order to promote evangelization is to encourage all People of God to pray for the missionary activities. Besides, so that the evangelization be fruitful, there are other factors:

+ Educate the People of God to witness for the Gospel by their way of living: charity and union of hearts.

+Training main-power (lay people, religious, priests) for the mission, at the same time on humanity and spiritual life, as well as on  intellectual and pastoral skills.

+ Furthermore, other material means are also crucial for the mission effectiveness, such as books, means of transportation, missionary stations, churches and chapels where the faithful can gather to pray and learn catechism.

  • Apart from looking for financial resource for mission and training new members of the Evangelization Youth Team in each Province, each parish should establish an Evangelization Fraternity for all goodwill parishioners who will collaborate to the evangelization on its own territory under the guidance of the pastor and according to the policy of the Diocesan Evangelization Committee.

 

  • Making plans in details for evangelization in each region of the Diocese; organizing formation and training sessions to help develop evangelization skills to missionaries, catechists, parishioners, Catholic students and intelligentsia; organizing missionary forum and dialogue with other religions.

 

  • The parishes’ Evangelization Fraternities should promote prayer for mission, have training sessions and mobilize all parishioners for the work of evangelization. Long-established Evangelization Fraternity should link up with the new ones in remote areas for mutual assistance and help.

 

2. Reaching out to Others

r The Evangelization Youth Team.  In reality, some of those mission activities described above have been carried out in Bac Ninh Diocese; especially the work of the Evangelization Youth Team – started 4 years ago – have born first fruits. In fact, 86 lay missionaries have settled in different remote or mountainous areas in the Diocese to live and work with local people, witnessing for the Good News by their daily life and preaching. Those young missionaries are supported partly from the Diocese’s missionary funds. Every month they come back to the Bishop’s House for retreat and sharing mission experiences. Every year, they take part to a two-week training session in Bible and catechism, in life and communication skills, in leadership, etc. The challenges they are facing now is to learn different dialects of minority ethnics. Also, the Diocese Evangelization Committee needs to raise fund for the training and support to those young missionaries, as well as for the translation and publication of religious books in minority dialects.

         

r  Evangelization through Dialogue. Evangelization through dialogue is also our chosen methodology. In fact there exist in Vietnam great traditions of religions and beliefs for thousand years (such as the ancestral worship, animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism…)  In fact, Bac Ninh was the very first place where Buddhism implanted in Vietnam, with several Buddhist temples dated from the 2nd century. It was from those Buddhist centers that that religion has spreaded all over the North and Centre of Vietnam in centuries. Consequently, our evangelization program commits to bring the Gospel value to all parts of Bac Ninh, lying in witnessing and dialogue of faith and life, Gospel and culture, Church and society. Furthermore, our priests and missionaries occasionally visit all people no matter they are from any religions, they are communists or atheists: congratulating them on happy events (like the Vietnamese New Year, the Birthday of Buddha, different feasts in other religions); consoling them on their sad and unfortunate occasions. We believe that those visits can make the Gospel alive and help people who are not Catholics “to identify the portrait of Jesus, the Savior, and understand better our religion.”

         

r  Evangelization through Inculturation. Nowadays, inculturation is an inseparable element of evangelization. It represents a way of “living the Gospel in the midst of people”. While doing so, we use values of the traditional culture to express our Christian faith on one hand, and bring traditional culture into harmony with the Christian faith on the other hand. That is a mutual exchange of gifts or a cross-cultural sharing between faith and culture. In the process of inculturation in Bac Ninh, we have emphasized especially on some significant fields such as: we promote the filial piety with parents, ancestors and God, as well as the universal brotherhood which are very much highlighted in Confucianist tradition. We have been composing liturgical hymns using folk songs’ melody and/or classical drama; writing poems and stories to express catechism; using solely Vietnamese language and Vietnamese patterns of thought in the liturgy and the communication of faith. Also, we have implemented the traditional architecture (temples in oriental shape and style) in church building, composed liturgical hymns based on Bac Ninh folk songs (Quan Ho Bac Ninh), organized liturgical events (Christmas, Holy Week) integrating  features from traditional village festivals (procession, hymns, dramas, traditional musical instruments).

 

3. Performing Charitable Work

Concrete charitable works can be done through activities such as providing relief for disaster victims and helping the poor in all aspects. Long-term charitable work should be aimed at comprehensive development to help the poor live with human dignity, as “development is the new name for peace” (Progressio Populorum). Social and charitable activities are more easily accepted because “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41).

Authentic discipleship naturally flows into generous service of love for others. This is not foreign evangelization. Evangelization has to be holistic and contextual. As Pope Paul VI affirmed: evangelization calls for integral liberation from sin most especially but also from every thing else that oppresses the human person such as ignorance, sickness, and poverty. Concretely, we are concerned of the poor people, sickness and voiceless, such as: granting scholarships to poor children; providing basic health cares; holding classes to eliminate illiteracy; assistance to old people; taking care of orphans, invalid and HIV/AIDS patients; building small houses and clean water program for the remote and poor areas.

Up to now, the diocese has already had a clinic for the poor, a nursing home for paralyzed patients, medical dispensaries in remote parishes; we are providing pastoral, medical and charitable services to four leprosaria in the diocese. In order to maintain those activities, we need support and assistance from goodwill people.

V. CONCLUSION

 

Towards a new evangelization in this new millennium, we pledge to striving to live authentic lives so that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ can penetrate into the mind and heart of the population in Bac Ninh and help them come to the fellowship with us in the Spirit. We pledge to gaining a better and more dynamic sense of mission and renewing our commitment to the evangelization.

We would like to thank all good will people, benefactors and organizations for their prayer and support. In order to get a good harvest for the mission, we always ask the Holy Spirit to grant to the Diocese abundant graces in the new Pentecost. May the martyrs of Bac Ninh pray for you and your activities serving the Kingdom of God.

 

 Lm. Fx. Nguyen Van Thang