Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christian Vietnamese

One of the attractive buildings in Hanoi and Saigon, are the old beautiful Catholic Church buildings. I have the opportunity to visit the cathedral of all three archdioceses; Hanoi, Hue and Saigon. Except for Hanoi, I also went into the church buildings. These church buildings are not only one of tourist attraction, but also historical buildings to be preserved as national heritage. Even small churches have its role in tourism, not only for religion function as most of the churches are with historical value and national treasures. I like the church at Sapa, the mountain town.....and also Mekong Delta....

It is Christmas time, and Saigon and Hanoi are in Christmas mood. Let us talk about religion in Vietnam; especially Christian Vietnamese, and difficulty position they are in , especially the minority tribal Christian.

Freedom of Religion by the constitution
The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam legally allows religious freedom. In 2007, Viet Nam News reported that Vietnam has six religions recognized by the State: (Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao), but that the Baha’i Community of Viet Nam had been awarded a "certificate of operation" from the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs. In 2007, the Committee for Religious Affairs was reported to have granted operation registration certificates to three new religions and a religious sect in addition to six existing religions. Every citizen is declared to be allowed to freely follow no, one, or more religions, practice religion without violating the law, be treated equally regardless of their religion, be protected from being violated in their religious freedom, but is prohibited to use religion to violate the law.

The earliest established religions in Vietnam are Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism (called the "triple religion" or tam giáo). Significant minorities of adherents to Roman Catholicism, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao and smaller minorities of adherents to Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, and Theravada Buddhism were established later, in recent centuries.

Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism first spread from China to Vietnam's Red River Delta region around 300 BC and remains popularly followed throughout the whole country, whereas Theravada Buddhism arrived from India into the southern Mekong Delta region between 300-600 AD and remains commonly adhered to in only the south delta area of Vietnam. To this day, Mahayana Buddhism is largely affiliated with the majority ethnic Vietnamese. About 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, though not all practice on a regular basis

Local Religion
Cao Dai(高台教) and Hoa Hao (和好教) are minority religions in Vietnam that were both founded in the Mekong River Delta during the 19th century. Cao Dai is a type of reformed Buddhism with principles taken from Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity that became popular in the rural regions of the southern delta area whereas Hoa Hao is related closer to tradition Buddhism and became popular in the southernmost areas of the delta

Sunni and Bashi Islam, a small minority faith, is primarily practiced by the ethnic Cham minority, though there are also a few ethnic Vietnamese adherents in the southwest. The communist government rejects criticism that it does not allow religious freedom.

There are also some Cham Hindu.

Free Thinkers?
The majority of Vietnamese people classify themselves as non-religious, although they visit religious temples several times every year. Their everyday behaviors and attitudes are dictated by the synthesis of philosophies which can be traced from many religions, especially Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Those religions have been co-existing in the country for centuries and mixed perfectly with the Vietnamese tradition of worshiping their ancestors and national heroes. That special mix explains why the people there find it hard to say exactly which religion they belong to.

About 8% of the population are Christians (about six million Roman Catholics and fewer than one million Protestants, according to the census of 2007). Christianity was introduced first by the Portuguese and the Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th centuries, then further propagated by French missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries, and to a lesser extent, by American Protestant missionaries during the presence of American forces during the 1960s and early 1970s, largely among the Montagnards of South Vietnam. The largest Protestant churches are the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Montagnard Evangelical Church. Two thirds of Vietnam's Protestants are ethnic minoritie

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

Vietnam is deeply suspicious and wary of Roman Catholicism. This mistrust originated during the 19th century when some Catholics collaborated with the French colonists and in helping French priests in uprisings against the emperors. Furthermore, the Catholic Church's strongly anti-communist stance has made it a government enemy. The Vatican Church is banned and only government-controlled organizations are permitted. The country's relations with the Vatican have improved, however, in recent years.

By November 1977, the government declared religious freedom for the Catholics in the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, but under the condition that all Catholic organizations must be under the control of the Communist government. In the 1980s, the Unified Bishops' Council of Vietnam and Committee for Solidarity of Patriotic Catholics were established to encourage Vietnam Catholics to support the Communist regime.

There are 26 dioceses including three archdioceses. The Archdioceses are:

(1)Archdiocese (Metropolitan) of Hanoi:Saint Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi has been assigned as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese.[1] The Cathedral was built in 1886 in neo-Gothic style. It holds several masses throughout the day and is usually crowded on weekends and religious holidays.
(2)Archdiocese (Metropolitan) of Hue: Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral in Huế has been assigned as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese
(3)Archdiocese (Metropolitan) of Ho Chi Minh city(former Saigon):Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica (Vương cung thánh đường Chính tòa Đức Mẹ Vô nhiễm Nguyên tội - Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn) in Ho Chi Minh City has been assigned as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese. Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City is considered to be one of the main city attractions and one of the most beautiful buildings in all Vietnam. It was built in 1877 - 1880 by the French architect J. Bourad, has a Neo-Romanesque facade with twin towers and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the center front

An estimated 120,000 Catholics participated in the opening ceremony of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee year marking the 350th anniversary of Vietnam's first Catholic diocese and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnamese Catholic Church as a hierarchy. However, the celebrations were marred by news of the resignation of the Archbishop of Hanoi, which some believe to be a result of government pressure. On Monday evening four cardinals, 30 Vietnamese bishops from all 26 dioceses and 1200 priests gathered with an estimated 120,000 lay faithful from northern dioceses to participate in the ceremony. Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA that the priests included dozens of foreign clerics from Europe and the United States.

Festivities took place on 23-11-2009, at So Kien, in the village of Phu Ly, around sixty kilometres south of Hanoi(about 43 miles), where the Church in Vietnam first was able to build a large and durable complex of buildings. The celebrations marked the 350th anniversary of the first apostolic vicariates in Vietnam and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Vietnam.

Land Claims

Land remains one of the thorniest issues in the relations between the Church and the state. The Vietnamese government maintains that all land belongs to the state and refuses to discuss "historical claims" dating back to colonial times. The government has rejected requests to return the Vatican Ambassador's residence in Hanoi, a church in Quang Binh, central Vietnam, and most recently a seminary in Dalat in the Central Highlands.

In December 2007 Catholics began a series of demonstrations that centred on the Vatican's former embassy building in Hanoi and spread elsewhere in the country, to demand the return of Church property. Some of these led to clashes with the police.

The protests over the properties were dealt with promptly and harshly.

Tam Toa Incident

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In July 20 2009 morning, 150 Catholics from Tam Toa parish, south of Hanoi, were setting up a temporary worship structure in their church compound Catholics in Tam Toa, to the south of Hanoi. Police blocked them from doing so, arrested several people and Catholic news sources say some were injured in a scuffle.

The parish is in Dong Hoi city, capital of Quang Binh province. The church of Tam Toa stands on breathtaking scenery. Fr Claude Bonin who built it in 1887, chose a hill on the shore of Nhat Le river, thinking that it was easier for Catholics to reach the church by using boats. With the economic and building development of the town (Dong Hoi), the zone has become the most expensive in the area. Note: Dong Hoi is the closest city to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, UNESCO's World Natural Heritage Site located 50 km north of the city.

Tam-Tòa parish has been established around 1631. The Tam-Tòa church, first built in 1887 and resided on Nguyen-Du street, in Dong-Hoi city of Quang-Binh province, situates right beside Nhat-Le river and also near Nhat-Le bridge. The gate/exit to the Pacfic Ocean from Nhat-Le river is in a distance from the church. Tam-Tòa church has been ruined in the war between North and South of Vietnam through the period roughly from 1954 to 1975. Only part of the bell tower, of the front and of the church's back stands still today. The church that was bombed by U.S. warplanes and had been designated a war relic. Local Catholics have been attending Mass held in the open in the church compound or at their homes since the end of the war. The parish also has not had any resident priest from 1964 to 2006, until Father Hong was assigned to serve the area, which now has about 1,000 parishioners. In 1997, the government declared the place a historical site without the approval of the local Church. Declaring a place a historical site implies that it is public property.

The event in Tam Toa sparked a mass rally, half million Vietnamese Catholics joined in huge protests demanding the justice for victims who were assaulted brutally by police in central coastal province of Vinh as they were trying to rebuild their worship place.

The standoff between the authorities of Hanoi and the Catholics of the diocese of Vinh (central Vietnam) for the use of the ruins of the church of Tam Toa came to an end on August 20 2009 when city government bulldozers flattened the last shreds of the sacred building, leaving only the bell tower standing.

Vinh Long
Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres asked the chairman of the Vinh Long provincial People's Committee, or local government, to return land which the sisters said had been developed in 1871 as a nunnery and orphanage. The request came in a letter dated December 6 and subsequently posted on the website of the Vietnam Episcopal Council.

In 1977, two years after communist authorities reunified Vietnam, the nuns of Saint-Paul de Chartres were arrested and in 2003 their church buildings were destroyed, said the letter signed by sister Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc.

She asked authorities to make amends for the 1977 "mistakes" and "return the legitimate property of the order of Saint-Paul."(source:

Rev. Nguyen Van Ly
The Rev. Nguyen Van Ly, 63, has been kept in solitary confinement since his trial on March 30, 2007, where he was convicted of disseminating propaganda against the Vietnamese government. Ly, who has spent more than 16 years in prison since 1977, has been repeatedly punished not for propaganda-spreading, but rather his advocacy to improve religious freedom and respect for human rights. (source:

Relationship with Vatican

Among Asian countries, only Vietnam, China, Burma, North Korea and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
When Vietnam's Communist forces overthrew the French and the country was split by the Geneva Convention in 1954, hundreds of thousands of Catholics fled to the south. Five years later, the Vatican uprooted its office in Hanoi and moved to Saigon where it kept an envoy to the U.S.-backed Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam, until that government fell in 1975.Since then, the bilateral relationship has moved a long way, with dozens of talks held in the last two decades.

And although the authorities maintain control over religious activities, Catholicism in Vietnam has recently flourished, with more churches being built and congregations growing.

The Vietnam-Vatican Joint Working Group convened its first meeting in Hanoi on February 16-17 2009 to discuss the establishment of their diplomatic ties. The meeting was co-chaired by Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister, Nguyen Quoc Cuong, and his Vatican counterpart, Monsignor Pietro Parolin.

President Nguyen Minh Triet met with Pope Benedict XVI, on 11-12-2009 at Vatican for 40 minutes — twice as long as was scheduled and the first time that the head of state of Vietnam has met with the pope since the communists took power in 1954. It is the beginning of the process to normalize the diplomatic ties between Vietnam and the Holy See.

Protestants in Vietnam are a small religious minority constituting from 0.5 to 2 % of the population or around one million people (or 1%) as the newest government census (2006). However, it is the country's fastest-growing religion, growing at a rate of 600% in the last decade.
Present estimates of the number of Protestants range from the official government figure of 500,000 to claims by churches of 1 million. The two officially recognized Protestant churches are the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV), recognized in 2001, and the smaller Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (ECVN), recognized since 1963. The SECV had affiliated churches in the southern provinces of the country. Some of the new converts belong to unregistered evangelical house churches. Based on believers' estimates, two-thirds of Protestants were members of ethnic minorities (montagnards).

Protestantism was introduced in 1911 at Da Nang by a Canadian missionary named Dr. R.A. Jaffray. As part of the Christian Missionary Alliance, over 100 missionaries were sent to Vietnam, assisting the faith's growth in the country. The first Protestant organization recognized by the government was the Evangelical Church of Vietnam: North in 1963.

By 1967 information, Protestant communities were represented mainly within South Vietnam. Those communities included the French Reformed Church, Anglican-Episcopalian, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Baptists, Church of Christ, Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, and Seventh-day Adventists. Other Protestant associations were also represented in some social services and welfare agencies. In 1967 there were 150,000 Protestant adherents in South Vietnam, representing about 1% of the total population.

Several Protestant church properties were confiscated during the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, including the seminaries in Nha Trang and Hanoi. Hundreds of Protestant churches were also destroyed in this period.

All Protestant denominations in Vietnam were gathered by local communist government into a single organization called the Evangelical Church of Vietnam in 1975, which had around 500,000 official members in 1997. However , in 1988, a house church movement began when some active pastors were expelled from the official churches. One of the most prominent from those pastors was Tran Dinh Ai, whose movement reached 16,000 members and 165 churches (by 1997)

Currently, more than half of the Protestants are part of evangelical house churches. Growth of the faith has been most dramatic among ethnic minority peoples (Montagnards) such as the Mnong, Ede, Jarai, and Bahnar. Pressure has reportedly put on Protestants in several northwestern villages to recant their faith in 2005, though there are fewer reports than in years past. Unsanctioned church meetings are routinely broken up and its members detained and harassed. In April 2001, the government gave official recognition to the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam. In 2005, hundreds of house churches that had been ordered to shut down in 2001, were quietly allowed to reopen. Over 100 refugees fled to Cambodia in the wake of a crackdown over large protests against land confiscation and a lack of religious freedom. In 2001, a historic Protestant church built in 1936 which was being petitioned for return to the local Christian community, was demolished. At least 54 people remain imprisoned due to their faith, including some Protestants. The New Life Fellowship, which has been seeking official recognition for eight years, was denied access in 2005 from meeting in Ho Chi Minh City. A Protestant pastor was forced to spend 12 months in psychiatric hospital on the disputed reason that he is delusional. In March, 2007, a member of the main Hanoi congregation of the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) Nguyen Van Dai was arrested for accusations relating to his defense of religious freedom, including disseminating alleged "infractions" of religious liberty.

Baptist and Mennonite movements were officially recognized by Hanoi in October, 2007, which was estimated as some improvement of religious freedom in the country. By words of the Baptist Church Pastor Nguyen Thong, since 1989 his Church has attracted more than 18,400 followers with 500 ministers, practicing in 135 congregations in 23 cities and provinces around the country.

By the 2008 estimates of Release International, many Christians from Vietnam’s tribal highlands are still regarded as enemies and targeted as "agents of America" because of their legacy during the Vietnam War. They are reportedly beaten, tortured and starved behind bars, despite the official claims and guarantees of freedom of religion.

(source: wikipedia)

Christian sources reported that some 40,000 people gathered in a hastily constructed venue in Ho Chi Minh City on 11-12-2009 to worship God, celebrate Christmas, and hear a gospel message - an event of unprecedented magnitude in Vietnam.

For the last two years, authorities surprisingly granted permission to unregistered house churches in Ho Chi Minh City to hold public Christmas rallies, and last year more than 10,000 people participated in one in Tao Dan Stadium.

The approval for this year only come in Dec. 9 2009, just 48 hours before the scheduled event, officials granted permission that required clearance all the way to Hanoi. But the permission was only for 3,000 people, and many more had been invited. Organizers had less than two days to turn a vacant field into something that would accommodate a stadium-size crowd. They had to bring in ample electricity, construct a giant stage, rent 20,000 chairs, and set up the sound and lighting. The extremely short time frame caused contractors to double the prices they would have charged with ample time.

The authorities either did not or could not stop buses from other directions, and that by evening the venue became the biggest "bus station" in all of Vietnam. By 6 p.m. the venue was full to capacity, and at least 2,000 had to be turned away.

Rev. Duong Thanh Lam, head of the Assemblies of God house churches "preached with anointing" and people responding to his gospel invitation poured to the front of the stage "like a waterfall." With space in front of the stage insufficient, the sources said, many others in their seats also indicated their desire to receive Christ.

The event raised more than 60 million dong (US$3,280) for a charity helping needy children. People were quite surprised to read a positive article on the event in the state-controlled press, which often vilifies Christians.

The event was screened live on the Vietnamese website and viewed by thousands more in Vietnam and by Vietnamese people around the world.

(source: /

They said On Friday evening (Dec. 11), history was made in communist Vietnam. Ironically, the President of Vietnam also met Pope on 11-12-2009.

We have seen the establishment of close contact between Vietnam and Vatican; and the Christmas Rally on 11-12-2009. This is a positive sign for Vietnam, for freedom of religion, and for upholding of Vietnam's constitution. Vietnam as a nation newly adopted the capitalism, similar to China, they have no experience in dealing with religion. Some of the young people do not know religion, even the enforcement units and government departments. Did they know their constitution guaranteed freedom of religion? Did they know it is the citizen's right to freedom of religion?. I think many are still blurred, or are still rooted in their belief that religion is the opium and enemy of communists. Then, ask a question, capitalism is a direct enemy of communism, why adopt capitalism? Is religion more danger than capitalism? may be they will answer we are socialist capitalism, that is entirely bullshit....Communism and capitalism are mutually exclusive, but for the benefits of the people and country, it need to be flexible and accommodating to the actual needs of people,including the religion needs. Who care about the "....ism", people is most important.

Being a Global citizen, Vietnam or even China cannot deny the existence of social organization on religion. They need to learn how to deal with it, and their law on religion institution need to be transparent, and enforcement unit should avoid violence and rudeness when deal with religion matter. However, when they are opening to religion awareness, they need to be aware of the false religion and cults, otherwise they will create more problems in future. Vietnam Government need education on religions.

It is good there is a positive sign, hope more religion prisoners will be released, and Vietnam will move towards religion freedom as promised by their constitution. The best Christmas gifts for Vietnamese Christian in this season ,will be the guarantee of freedom of religion and immediate release of religion prisoners....

By the way, Merry Christmas to all Vietnamese Christians, especially the ethnic minority peoples (Montagnards) and those from the house churches. Merry Christmas.....

Related articles:

1. Vietnam and the Vatican promote reconciliation, BBC News, dated 14 December 2009,
2, Vietnam Catholics seek return of disputed land, AFP, Google News dated ,
3. Over 120,000 Catholics attend opening of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee Year,
4. Bulldozers raze the Church of Tam Toa quashing Catholic demands,by Emily Nguyen,Asianews dated 25-8-2009,
5. Half a million Vietnamese Catholics of Vinh Diocese protest against police’s brutality, VietCatholic News (26 Jul 2009 01:29),
6. Tam Toa Church,
7. Unprecedented Christmas Gathering Held in Vietnam, Compass Direct News dated 16-12-2009,
8. Vietnamese Martyrs,

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