In Vietnam, Church Health Care Is Slowly Coming of Age

Vatican Official Sees Other Hopeful Signs — Even in Hanoi

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2003 ( A Vatican representative visited Vietnam recently to meet with Catholic communities and support the social-charitable work of the Church there, especially in the area of health.

Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council «Cor Unum,» told ZENIT that he was the first Vatican representative who has been able to freely visit the country and contact the people he wished to see. «Cor Unum» is the Vatican agency that allocates John Paul II’s aid and coordinates the work of Catholic aid organizations.

«Up until now, the Vatican delegation was a guest of the government and lived in buildings indicated by the government,» Archbishop Cordes said. «I was able to sleep in Ho Chi Minh City [formerly Saigon] in the home of the bishop, Monsignor Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Mân. In the other cities I slept in hotels, as I was unable to stay overnight in the bishops’ homes.»

The point of the Jan. 13-20 visit, he said, was to get to know firsthand the plan to create a «model hospital,» under the guidance of Catholic doctors in Ho Chi Minh City, which could later be extended to other cities.

Archbishop Cordes also met with officials of Caritas and numerous women religious who work in health care in Vietnam. «The government leaves room for these initiatives that benefit the whole society,» he said.

«In the North, we were also in a leprosarium,» the archbishop added. «It is a state institution, but women religious work in it. They have also opened a chapel where one can pray.»

The German archbishop saw «the great number of Vietnamese vocations, especially of women religious, although a ‘numerus clausus’ exists,» that is, «they can only receive the number of religious established by the authorities. The same happens with seminarians. Moreover, sometimes the authorities cancel directly the names of some of the candidates.»

Many of the women religious belong to the family of Lovers of the Cross, which arose in Vietnam and has spread virtually nationwide.

In regard to the general situation of Catholics (6.82% of a population of 81 million), the archbishop said that there are differences between the South and North. «In the latter, religious freedom meets with more difficulties.»

He added: «There is a group of priests closer to the government, although the bishops explained that it is not like in China, where there is a ‘patriotic Church.’ Some get along better with the government, especially at the level of the clergy.»

«The new movements and ecclesial communities of the laity have not arrived yet,» the archbishop observed. «The only thing I was able to see in several places were the prayer groups of the Taizé Community, which was a real surprise. I detected a certain friendliness on the part of the bishops, who see in this community a ‘school of prayer’ for young Vietnamese.

«The religious life of Catholics is very dynamic. I was able to celebrate Sunday Mass in Hanoi and the church was full of people. The first Masses start at 4:30 in the morning, and are full to the brim.»

Archbishop Cordes said he was impressed by the «economic strength he was able to see, especially in the South.»

«One could see great vitality in the streets, full of people, full of scooters everywhere,» he added. «I think there will be a real economic boom now.»

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