Rome (Fides Service) – Today there are more than 2 million Vietnamese living outside their homeland in 30 different countries and about 500,000 of them are Catholics. Besides these two million, there are another 300,000, originally sent by Vietnam’s communist government to Eastern Europe to work for the benefit of the state and who, when Communism collapsed in the 1990s, decided to remain abroad.
Emigration en masse from Vietnam began in 1973 at the end of the war between Vietnam and the United States and it reached a climax in successive years. In 1975 when Saigon was taken by the North Vietnamese millions took to the sea in all kinds of boats seeking refuge in other countries. Thousands of these “boat people” as they came to be known, perished at sea, others managed to start a new life. Thousands more fled overland through Cambodia where they were massacred by the Red Khmers.
Today there are communities of Vietnamese exiles in various countries and 500,000 are Catholics distributed as follows: 1 million in the United States (of whom 200,000 Catholics); 200,000 in France (of whom 75,000 Catholics); 160,000 in Australia (of whom 35,000 Catholics); 50,000 in Canada (of whom 20,000 Catholics); 30,000 in Germany (of whom 10,000 Catholics); 3,000 in Italy (of whom 700 Catholics). Among these 500,000 Catholics, 800 are priests, and every year an average of 5-10 new Vietnamese priests are ordained.
A seminarian from Saigon who is studying in Rome told Fides Service about the effects of emigration. “One of the main difficulties for overseas Vietnamese is the impact with a different culture. For example in Vietnam the family is fundamental. It is the first nucleus of society build on strong family ties and values: marital fidelity, respect for parents, respect for brothers and sisters. Transplanted into western culture families tend to disintegrate and youth are torn between the culture of their fathers and everyday life in their new country” he said.
The strength of the Vietnamese family is seen in the life of Catholic families in the Diaspora. Most Vietnamese Catholic immigrants take an active part in parish life and activities in the new country; Sunday Mass, reception of the Sacraments, work in the apostolate. On the whole they are well integrated in the local society while keeping their own traditions and remaining united. In the United States and in France these communities have their own organisations for co-ordinating pastoral care. In 1992 in Rome a Movement of Vietnamese Overseas Lay Catholics was started with the aim of promoting lay apostolate especially in the fields of culture and interreligious dialogue. Moreover, concerned for the plight of the emigrants, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples set up a special Office for the Apostolate of Overseas Vietnamese Catholics directed today by Mgr Joseph Dinh Duc Dao.
Projects of Vietnam’s overseas Catholics have two objectives: benefit the overseas communities and serve the Church in Vietnam. The projects regard mainly formation of youth and lay apostolate in the fields of culture, social-political involvement and interreligious dialogue. PA (Fides Service 25/7/2003 EM lines 37 Words: 475)