Wednesday, September 09, 2009

In Vietnam, A Flock for the Shepherd

Even amid a climate where persecution and trial are seemingly more rule than exception, when it comes to showing up for the faith, nobody can beat the formidable witness of the Vietnamese church, which yet again gathered in stunning numbers yesterday to celebrate the open-air ordination of a new bishop.

According to reports, a crowd of "at least 20,000" thronged to the northern city of Phat Diem to witness the rites installing Fr Joseph Nguyen Nang as the diocese's new head, closing out a 30-month vacancy. The 100th bishop ordained in Vietnam since the hierarchy's inception there in 1933, the 55 year-old -- a native son -- served as a seminary rector before his July appointment.

Under the current protocol of relations between the Holy See and the Communist nation, the government enjoys a de facto veto over the nomination of bishops; a top-level Vatican working group last visited Hanoi in February.

Receiving the Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit in June, the Pope addressed the tensions on the ground, encouraging an example of "humble firmness" and telling the prelates that "healthy collaboration between the church and the political community is possible.

"[T]he church invites all her members to be loyally committed to building a just, supportive and fair society," B16 said. "Her intention is certainly not to replace government leaders; she wishes only to be able to play a just role in the nation's life, at the service of the whole people, in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration."

"Lay Catholics for their part must show by their life, which is based on charity, honesty and love for the common good, that a good Catholic is also a good citizen," the pontiff added. "For this reason [the bishops] must ensure that they have a sound formation, by promoting their life of faith and their cultural standard so that they may serve the church and society effectively."

In the seven-yearly visit's wake, critics alleging that the government distorted the Pope's message were arrested, and two priests were severely beaten (one into a coma, before being hurled from a second-floor window) as they traveled to celebrate Mass.

PHOTOS: Reuters