LOS ANGELES - As the director of VietCatholic News Services, which serve to about 7 millions Vietnamese Catholic overseas as well as those live in Vietnam, http://vietcatholic.net/news) I would like to come back to Vietnam to have a first hand observation about the religious situation in Vietnam, but I was denied that opportunity. On November 27, 2005, I landed at the international airport of Noi Bai, Hanoi, but only after one hour, I was expelled from that country to return to United States. Even though I have a valid visa from Vietnamese Embassy here.

Rev. John Nghi Tran
The purpose of my trip would be twofold: to accompany the Vatican delegation to report about this historical event, and to test the truthfullness of Hanoi government in regard to the question of freedom of religion and free press in Vietnam. My expulsion proves both are fault.

Although I cannot be present in Vietnam for the occasion, but I have many avenues to get up to date news and information from Vietnam, and I have quite experiences and knowledge about political, social and religious situations of Vietnamese people, for I have reported about these issues in the last 20 years.

Over the past few days, most major international news agencies have reported on the ordination mass for 57 deacons to the priesthood at Hanoi Cathedral and historic visit of Cardinal Sepe, Prefect of Evangelization of Peoples to Vietnam.

The entire world is very surprised why such a communist country like Vietnam, which imposed her people on atheistic, authoritarian, forceful and inhuman measures and values over the past 50 years, but the Catholic Church has still survived with a fervent faith.

Following are some positive images and its reflection on the Catholic Church in Vietnam:

(1) Through the images of the Ordination Mass event, the entire world can see plain country people from remote areas (perhaps this is their first time to Hanoi) and people from different walks of lives flock into Hanoi to witness a mass demonstration of faith for the very first time ever in the history under the Communist regime, and the expression of their own fervent and pious faith.

(2) The entire world can see 57 new priests at a poor country where problems and difficulties still persist, and this image has deeply struck the conscience of all the Catholic faithful across the globe, even at a very rich and adequate means like the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, last year it only had 5 new priests and among those 5 new priests, 3 were Vietnamese by origin.

(3) The process of pursuing priesthood vocation is extremely tough and usually lasts very long (about 12 years average), and most of these new priests have been followed their priestly vocation for the past 20 or 25 years, after many years of study in the North, then secretly in the South and finally were re-admitted to Hanoi Major Seminary in order to be ordained to the priesthood today.

(4) Looking at happy, proud, joyful and pious faces of the Vietnamese people, Cardinal Sepe himself had to utter: “I have been in Americas, Europe and even Asia, but nowhere have I witnessed such a devotion as that in Vietnam.” This courageous faith is the result of the blood of 300,000 Vietnamese martyrs who were killed during the persecution in the 18th Century and thousands of unknown Catholic Vietnamese faithful who were publicly denounced and killed during the communist regime or died in prison cells of this atheistic regime.

(5) The entire world witness the loving hearts of Vietnamese people towards their universal Catholic Church; their love and respect to the Pope; and the Vietnamese people’s traditional undauntedness in faith through many generations. It is also why the late Pope John Paul II ever exhorted that “Vietnam is always in my heart!” and in response, Cardinal Sepe also acknowledged that “I will relay to the Holy Father your special love to him and our universal Church.”

(6) The Ordination Mass went smoothly, solemnly and traditionally with the attendance of Vietnamese Catholic faithful from different walks of lives, and Vietnamese from many ethnic minority groups (M’Hong, White Thai, Rongao, Jarai, Bahnar, etc.) along with their respectively traditional triabal dress, and musical instruments such as: gongs, flags, drums, and so on.

(7) Despite all the ordeals, tough examination of Vietnamese people’s courage, along with tons of difficulties in both physical and spiritual lives, the Catholic faith of the Vietnamese people is still fervent, resounding, and a meritorious example for the entire Catholic Church.

(8) The fervent faith that the whole world has seen from the Vietnamese people in Hanoi on this occasion is again attested by the same vibrant and fervent faith of Vietnamese people from overseas communities, and proudly acknowledged by local bishops across the globe over the past 30 years.

The Mission of New Priests and Vietnamese Catholic Church calls for Pastoral Initiatives and New Evangelization :

In his homily at the Ordination Mass, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe reminded the new priests: “This ordination will give you the authority and duty to preach the Gospel of Christ to all and in the name of the Church.”

And it is their mission, the mission of these brand new Vietnamese priests who live among 82 million people in a country where only 6 million are Catholics. “To preach the Gospel is not to engage in proselytism in the negative sense often attributed to evangelization; rather, it is to share the joy and truth that we Christians take to our non-Christian brothers,” asserted by the Cardinal.

The Cardinal, 62 years old, also invited all Vietnamese faithful to “sanctify themselves and actively defend their family values from being destroyed by dangerous, selfish and consumerism society nowadays; and maintain good Vietnamese traditions which piety and respect for the elders are the cornerstone values and must be pursued.”

In general, the common situation for the Catholic Church in Vietnam seems to be heartened but she still faces with the problems of undetermined youth

As present, the Catholic Church in Vietnam have 3 archdioceses, 23 dioceses, 2 cardinals, 37 bishops, 2,212 diocesan priests and 521 religious priests. In addition, the Church also has 1,778 brothers, 11,443 sisters; approximately 1,000 seminarians under formation at 6 Major Seminaries to become priests, 1,395 lay missionaries, 50,605 catechists, and about 6 million Catholic faithful.

According to reports received from Office of the Vietnamese Bishops Conference, on average 80%, and at some places, it is up to more than 90% of Catholics who regularly practice their Catholic faith and attend Sunday Mass, while in Europe; this number is only 20% to 40% at the maximum, varied with different country.

In addition, Vietnam is a small country but has huge population. It is also a country which has up to 75% of the entire population who are under 35.

The Catholic Church in Vietnam not only faces with current problems regarding her limited activities permitted by the government, but also has to be pioneer in every matter of daily lives such as education, charity and social issues.

Looking into these statistical figures, sociologists start in surprise, due to the growth of consequences as a result from this large number of the young people --- they were born in an authoritarian and atheistic society, though they are sent to schools, recent studies have shown that after graduation, they could not find jobs or had to barely survive in a society which briberies, and corruption starting from the top down and those who have power in this communist government (as recently reported on Vietnamese media where 30% of government officials readily accept bribes), not including its existing social evils such as drug/opium addiction, free lifestyle, stolen, robbery, wandering, desolation, poverty, pessimistic life, loose moral lifestyle, illness and incurable diseases of HIV/AIDS with 100 newly-infected patients everyday, and so on.

Facing with these insolvable problems and difficulties, the advanced direction that the Catholic Church in Vietnam has to move forward, will be marked with different and unexpected challenges in her pastoral and evangelization mission in the years to come.