Roman Catholicism in Vietnam

The Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome. Vietnam has the fourth largest Catholic population in Asia, after the Philippines, India, and China.

By the information of "Catholic Hierarchy Catalog", there are 5,658,000 Catholics in Vietnam, representing 6.87% of the total population. [ Catholic Hierarchy Web Site] ] There are 26 dioceses (including three archdioceses) with 2228 parishes and 2668 priests. [ Catholic Hierarchy Web Site] ] .


The first Catholic missionaries visited Vietnam from Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century. The earliest missions did not bring very impressive results. Only after the arrival of Jesuits in the first decades of the 17th century did Christianity begin to establish its positions within the local population. Between 1627 and 1620 Fathers Alexander de Rhodes and Antoine Marquez of the French Province converted over 6,000, including numerous bonzes, who, during the temporary expulsion of the Jesuits dictated by the fear of their success, kept alive the faith. So rapidly did the Christian community increase that in 1659 the spiritual administration of Tong-king and Cochin China was entrusted to the first vicars Apostolic of the Society of Foreign Missions, who established parishes, built seminaries, and instituted many foundations of the Amantes de la Croix (i.e., Lovers of the Holy Cross).

Jesuit missionary Alexandre De Rhodes in the 17-th century created a written system of the Vietnamese language largely using the Roman alphabet with added diacritic markings, based on the work of earlier Portuguese missionaries. This system continues to be used today, and is called Quốc Ngữ (literally "national language").

By 1802, the Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam had 3 dioceses as follows:

* Diocese of Eastern North Vietnam: 140,000 members, 41 Vietnamese priests, 4 missionary priests and 1 bishop.

* Diocese of Western North Vietnam: 120,000 members, 65 Vietnamese priests, 46 missionary priests and 1 bishop.

* Diocese of Central and South Vietnam: 60,000 members, 15 Vietnamese priests, 5 missionary priests and 1 bishop. [cite web | title = Catholic Church in Vietnam with 470 years of Evangelization | work = Rev. John Trần Công Nghị, Religious Education Congress in Anaheim | date = 2004| url = | accessdate = 2007-05-17]

Later centuries (mainly, 19th) had long periods of turbulence in Catholic life in Vietnam, including persecution of Roman Catholic clergy and ordinary believers by Vietnamese authorities. Such events described in Catholic Encyclopedia as the "Great Massacres", demonstrated, by the opinion of that encyclopedia, the fierce determination of the Annamite rulers to destroy every vestige of the Christian faith. In Eastern Cochin China the martyrs included 15 priests (7 native), 60 catechists, 270 nuns, 24,000 Christians (out of 41, 234); all the charitable institutions and ecclesiastical buildings of the mission—including the episcopal curia, churches, presbyteries, 2 seminaries, a printing establishment, 17 orphanages, 10 convents, and 225 chapels — were destroyed. In Southern Cochin China 10 native priests and 8585 Christians were massacred in the Quang Tri Province alone—the two remaining provinces supplied hundreds of martyrs; two-thirds of the churches, presbyteries, etc. of the mission were pillaged and burned. In the Mission of Southern Tong-king, 163 churches were burned; 4799 Catholics were executed, while 1181 died of hunger and misery. These figures apply only to the year 1885. In 1883-1884 eight French missionaries, one native priest, 63 catechists and 400 Christians were massacred in Western Tong-king, while 10,000 Catholics only saved themselves by flight. The carnage extended even to the remote forests of Laos, where seven missionaries, several native priests, and thousands of Catholics were killed.

The first Vietnamese bishop, John Baptist Nguyễn Bá Tòng, was consecrated in 1933 at St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Pius XI. [cite web | title = Catholic Church in Vietnam with 470 years of Evangelization | work = Rev. John Trần Công Nghị, Religious Education Congress in Anaheim | date = 2004| url = | accessdate = 2007-05-17]

outh Vietnam: Government policy towards Buddhists

In a country where surveys of the religious composition estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90 percent, [ [ The 1966 Buddhist Crisis in South Vietnam] HistoryNet] [Gettleman, pp. 275–76, 366.] [Moyar, pp. 215–216.] [ [,9171,874816-2,00.html The Religious Crisis - TIME ] ] [Tucker, pp. 49, 291, 293.] [Maclear, p. 63.] [ [ SNIE 53-2-63, "The Situation in South Vietnam, 10 July 1963 ] ] President Ngo Dinh Diem's policies generated claims of religious bias. As a member of the Catholic Vietnamese minority, he is widely regarded by historians as having pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists. Specifically, the government was regarded as being biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions. [Tucker, p. 291.] Diem also once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that he was a Buddhist, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted." Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Catholicism in the belief that their military prospects depended on it. [Gettleman, pp. 280–282.] Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Vietcong guerrillas saw weapons only given to Catholics, with Buddhists in the army being denied promotion if they refused to convert to Catholicism.cite news|title=South Vietnam: Whose funeral pyre? |publisher=New Republic |page=9| date=1963-06-29] Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies, [Warner, p. 210.] and in some areas forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas occurred. [Fall, p. 199.] Some Buddhist villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diem's regime. [Buttinger, p. 993.] The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and the "private" status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French, which required official permission to conduct public Buddhist activities, was not repealed by Diem. [Karnow, p. 294.] The land owned by the Catholic Church was exempt from land reform. [Buttinger p. 933.] Catholics were also "de facto" exempt from the corvée labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform; U.S. aid was disproportionately distributed to Catholic majority villages. Under Diem, the Catholic church enjoyed special exemptions in property acquisition, and in 1959, Diem dedicated his country to the Virgin Mary. [Jacobs p. 91.]

The white and gold Vatican flag was regularly flown at all major public events in South Vietnam.cite news|title=Diem's other crusade| date=1963-06-22|publisher=New Republic|pages=5–6] U.S. Aid supplies tended to go to Catholics, and the newly constructed Hue and Dalat universities were placed under Catholic authority to foster a Catholic-skewed academic environment.cite news|first=David |last=Halberstam| authorlink=David Halberstam| title=Diệm and the Buddhists| publisher=New York Times| date=1963-06-17]

Buddhist crisis

In May, in the central city of Huế, where Diem's elder brother was the archbishop, Buddhists were prohibited from displaying Buddhist flags during Vesak celebrations commemorating the birth of Gautama Buddha when the government cited a regulation prohibiting the display of non-government flags. [Topmiller, p. 2.] . A few days later, Catholics were allowed to fly religious flags at another celebration where the regulation was not enforced. This led to a protest lead by Thich Tri Quang against the government, which was suppressed by Diem's forces, killing nine unarmed civilians. Diem and his supporters blamed the Vietcong for the deaths and claimed that the protesters were responsible for the violence. [Karnow, p. 295.] [Moyar, pp. 212–213.] Although the provincial chief expressed sorrow for the killings and offered to compensate the victims' families, they resolutely denied that government forces were responsible for the killings and blamed the Vietcong. [Gettleman, pp. 64–83.] `The Buddhists pushed for a five point agreement: freedom to fly religious flags, an end to arbitrary arrests, compensation for the Hue victims, punishment for the officials responsible and religious equality.

As demonstrations against his government continued throughout the summer, the special forces loyal to Diem's brother Nhu conducted an August raid of the Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon. The pagodas were vandalised, monks beaten, the cremated remains of Thích Quảng Đức, which included a heart which did not disintegrate, were confiscated. [ [,9171,940704-1,00.html The Crackdown - TIME ] ] Simultaneous raids were carried out across the country, with the Tu Dam Pagoda in Hue being looted, the statue of Gautama Buddha demolished and a body of a deceased monk confiscated. [,9171,940704-2,00.html The Crackdown - TIME ] ] When the populace came to the defense of the monks, the resulting clashes saw 30 civilians killed and 200 wounded. In all 1400 monks were arrested, and some thirty were injured across the country. [Gettleman, pp. 278–283.]

In 1976, the Holy See made Archbishop Joseph Mary Trịnh Như Khuê the first Vietnamese cardinal. Joseph Mary Cardinal Trịnh Văn Căn in 1979 and Paul Joseph Cardinal Phạm Đình Tung in 1994 were his successors. The well known Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyên Văn Thuân, who was imprisoned by the Communist regime from 1975-1988 and spent nine years in solitary confinement, was nominated Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and made its President in 1998. On February 21, 2001 he was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II. [cite web | title = Catholic Church in Vietnam with 470 years of Evangelization | work = Rev. John Trần Công Nghị, Religious Education Congress in Anaheim | date = 2004| url = | accessdate = 2007-05-17]

All Vietnamese Catholics who had died for their faith from 1533 to the present day were canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II as Vietnamese Martyrs.

Present time

Vietnam and the Vatican currently do not have diplomatic relations with one another. However, there have been meetings between leaders of the two states, including a visit by Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict XVI on January 25, 2007.

Official Vatican delegations have been traveling to Vietnam almost every year since 1990 for meetings with its government authorities and to visit Catholic dioceses.

In March 2007, a Vatican delegation visited Vietnam and met with local officials. [cite web | title = Vatican: Vietnam working on full diplomatic relations with Holy See | work = Catholic News Service | date = 2007-03-12| url = | accessdate = 2007-05-15] The sides discussed the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations in normal atmosphere, but have not provided a specific schedule for the exchange of ambassadors. The issues of continued restrictions on Catholic life in Vietnam and the nominating of bishops by the Pope without or with insisted by local government approval of Vietnamese bodies remain obstacles in bilateral dialog.

Vatican officials also visited Quy Nhon and Kontum dioceses, which had never hosted such delegations before.

In March 2007, Thaddeus Nguyễn Văn Lý (b. 1946), a dissident Roman Catholic priest, was sentenced by Vietnamese court in Hue to eight years in prison on grounds of "anti-government activities". Nguyen, who had already spent 14 of the past 24 years in prison, was accused of being a founder of a pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406 and a member of the Progression Party of Vietnam. [ [ Asia News, March 2007] ]

On September 16, 2007, the fifth anniversary of the Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Thuận's death, the Roman Catholic Church began the beatification process for him. [cite news |url= |title=Late Vietnamese cardinal put on road to sainthood |publisher=Reuters |date=September 17, 2007 |accessdate=2007-09-17] Pope Benedict XVI expressed "profound joy" at the news of the official opening of the beatification cause. [ [ UCANews at] ] Roman Catholics in Vietnam also reacted positively to the news of the opening of the Cardinal's beatification process.

In December 2007, thousands of Vietnamese Catholics marched in procession to the former apostolic nunciature in Hanoi and prayed there twice aiming to return the property to the local Church. [ [ UCA News] ] The building was a historic Buddhist site until it was confiscated following the French colonisation of Vietnam, on grounds of protecting Catholics, before the communist North Vietnamese government confiscated it from the Vatican in 1959. [] That was evidently the first mass civil activity of the Vietnamese Catholics since the 1970s. A little later the protests were supported by Catholic faithful in Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Ðông, who put forward the same demands for their respective territories [ [ Vietnamese Catholics broaden their protest demanding justice, Asianews, 01/15/2008] ] . As a result in February 2008, the former building of the apostolic nunciature in Hanoi was promised by the Vietnamese Government to be returned to Roman Catholic Church [ [ Archbishop of Hanoi confirms restitution of nunciature, thanks pope] ] . Though later in September 2008, the authorities changed their position and decided to demolish the building to create a public park [ [ In Hanoi, stance of repression against Catholics seems to have won, Asianews] ]

Roman Catholic dioceses

There are 26 dioceses including three archdioceses. The Archdioceses are:
* Archdiocese (Metropolitan) of Hanoi
* Archdiocese (Metropolitan) of Hue
* Archdiocese (Metropolitan) of Ho Chi Minh city, (former Saigon). [cite web | title = Catholic Dioceses in Vietnam | work = Giga-Catholic Information | date = 2007-05-10| url = | accessdate = 2007-05-15] The dioceses are:
*Diocese of Ba Ria
*Diocese of Bac Ninh
*Diocese of Ban Mê Thuôt
*Diocese of Bùi Chu
*Diocese of Cân Tho
*Diocese of Ðà Lat
*Diocese of Ðà Nang
*Diocese of Hai Phòng
*Diocese of Hung Hóa
*Diocese of Kontum
*Diocese of Lang Son and Cao Bang
*Diocese of Long Xuyên
*Diocese of My Tho
*Diocese of Nha Trang
*Diocese of Phan Thiêt
*Diocese of Phát Diêm
*Diocese of Phú Cuong
*Diocese of Quy Nhon
*Diocese of Thai Binh
*Diocese of Thanh Hóa
*Diocese of Vinh
*Diocese of Vinh Long
*Diocese of Xuân Lôc. [cite web | title = Catholic Diocesesin Vietnam | work = Giga-Catholic Information | date = 2007-05-10| url = | accessdate = 2007-05-15]

ee also

*Vietnamese Martyrs
*Christianity in Vietnam
*List of Roman Catholic Dioceses in Vietnam
*Marian Days
*Nguyen Van Thuan


External links

* [ The Catholic Church in Vietnam] by Giga-Catholic Information
* [ Catholic hierarchy in Vietnam]
* [ Catholic Church in Vietnam with 470 years of Evangelization]
* [ Vatican Delegation Goes to Vietnam] AP article regarding diplomatic meetings
* [ Vietnamese Catholic Network] in Vietnamese
* [ Vietnamese Catholic Links]
* [ Jesuit Service in Vietnam]
* [ Vietnam working on full diplomatic relations with Holy See]
* [ In Vietnam, Christianity gains quietly]
* [ For Catholic Church, Vietnamese Are the New Irish]
* [ Catholic Relief Service in Vietnam]
* [ Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan)]
* [ Vietnam Eases Restrictions on Catholics]

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