ASIA/VIETNAM - Apostolate and Pastoral Service in the Central Highlands of Vietnam: "Being and Making Community"

Tuesday, 28 March 2023 religious minorities   evangelization   pastoral   religious community  


Ban Me Thuot (Agenzia Fides) - The evangelizing mission and pastoral service are not easy in the mountainous regions of the central highlands of Vietnam, where a patient work of weaving between different indigenous realities and groups is needed, to "be and make community", in order to be able to truly walk together. In this region of central Vietnam, a territory that includes 5 provinces (Lam Dong, Kon Tum, Ban Me Thuot, Dak Nong and Gia Lai), different ethnic minority groups live, for the most part still in situations of poverty, lack of education and development. Overall, 5.8 million people live in the region, equal to 6.1% of the Vietnamese population, and among them there are about 1.1 million Catholics,
Although the Good News was spread in this region more than a century ago, it is difficult to bring together people from tribes of different cultures, of different languages. Priests, catechists and pastoral workers strive to understand in depth the ancient traditions, customs and indigenous cultures, with the idea of being present and accompanying the life of each community in the region, supporting them in their daily needs and to strengthen their faith, to live in solidarity, love and communion.
Msgr. Vincent Nguyen Van Ban, who was Bishop of the diocese of Ban Me Thuot and is still currently its Apostolic Administrator, during his pastoral ministry studied the local ethnic language "Ede", one of the three indigenous languages in this region. "To better integrate into people's lives, you need to learn their mother tongue, communicate, understand each other, establish bonds of friendship and communion", he observes.
Subsequently, he was able to offer teachings of faith in the three main local languages (Ede, M'Nong and S'tieng) to the seminarians of the diocese, during their studies at the Seminary. This, he points out, has had positive effects on evangelization and has greatly helped seminarians and religious to accompany, in turn, indigenous peoples on their spiritual journey.
Today many young priests in the diocese of Ban Me Thuot can easily approach the local populations for catechesis, liturgy and charity.
Since taking care of God's people in the plateau diocese of Ban Me Thuot, Msgr. Vincent Nguyen Van Ban has always been aware of the need to be a Pastor close to all the baptized, which requires a work of connection between the different communities, so that they are united and support each other. However, due to the differences in ethnicity, language and culture, economy, social status, the union of communities in the people of God, in such a varied and plural context, is not an easy task and that is why the pastoral work has focused on this front, in the spirit of synodality.
One of the paths chosen in the diocesan community of Ban Me Thuot is to promote solidarity: families who encounter difficulties or who struggle for their daily subsistence can come together and share a meal after Sunday Mass or after other liturgies in parishes, where priests and religious organize moments of conviviality to help the faithful of different ethnic groups to get to know each other, stay together, share their lives, in order to strengthen solidarity and love in the community. Many indigenous parishioners walk more than 50 km to reach the parish church on Sunday, through winding and uneven paths. Finding hospitality and refreshment after Mass represents an important moment for them to "do and feel like a community".
The work of evangelization in these lands requires perseverance and sensitivity, as well as a spirit of fraternity and friendship, with full respect for the cultures of the local populations. To concretely express this closeness, in many parishes and houses of religious orders in the diocese of Ban Me Thuot, dormitories have been set up for young people of various ethnicities, where they can study and reside in order to attend public schools more comfortably, even days far from their villages of origin. Many vocations to the priesthood and religious life were born among these children and young people, welcomed free of charge. Among them is Sister Teresa H'Mit Kha, one of the nuns (of Ede language and culture) of the Order of the Queen of Peace; there are also two young priests from the Xo Dang and M'Nong ethnic groups in the diocese of Ban Me Thuot.
In another remote region, belonging to the diocese of Da Lat, close to the diocese of Buon Me Thuoc, the experience of a priest who carries out the mission in the parish of Saint Paul which includes 465 families of different ethnic minorities is very much appreciated.
Father Anthony Vu Thanh Hoa spends a lot of time with the local populations, taking care of their spiritual life and organizing material help in the different villages. He is interested in finding schools or jobs for young people, takes care of the elderly, helps widows, encourages children to go to school or organizes workers to repair the damaged houses of poor families. In the villages where the ground is rocky, he had deep wells built, with machines able to drill the ground, to have fresh water, to obtain clean water for the practical needs of the people and for farming. "In life - says the priest - the only principle to live is 'God is love': this pushes me to live as an instrument to spread the love of God to people in every corner of the territory, in every moment of the day and year". (PA-AD) (Agenzia Fides, 28/3/2023)