VIETNAM — A centuries-old diocese in northern Vietnam that has suffered much religious persecution has officially opened its first pastoral centre to meet religious needs for local Catholics.
The newly built Pastoral Centre of Hai Phong Diocese was formally inaugurated on 4 October by Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam.
Present at the special ceremony attended by thousands of people were Archbishop Marek Zalewski, non-resident representative of the Holy See to Vietnam, all bishops from the country’s 27 dioceses and representatives from the government and Buddhism.
“The new pastoral centre is the heart of our diocese and will gather all people of God to encourage our faith life, charity and unity together within the diocese,” said Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi who serves as apostolic administrator of Hai Phong.
Archbishop Thien, who served as bishop of the diocese for 14 years until he was named archbishop of Hanoi last year, said the building shows the solidarity of the local Church after generous donations from benefactors in Vietnam and abroad.
He said the seven-story building, which took 3.5 years to build, aims to offer regular courses in theology, catechism, ministries and retreats to priests, religious and laypeople. It also provides comfortable accommodation for retired and ailing priests.
The bishop’s house, based in the downtown area of the port of Hai Phong, is too small to hold religious activities.
The new centre on a 10,000-square-meter plot in An Duong district has 200 rooms including a chapel, a 250-seat conference room, meeting rooms and living rooms.
Archbishop Zalewski said he hoped the pastoral centre would satisfy increasing spiritual needs of the local Church and the growing development of the city.
Vietnamese bishops finished their 14th assembly from 30 September to 4 October at the centre.
Archbishop Linh said the pastoral centre, which may be the largest in Asia, is clear evidence of God’s love and providence during the 340-year-old diocese’s ups and downs.
Hundreds of Catholics in the diocese were killed for their faith during religious persecution in the 19th century. Among them were three Spanish missionaries and one Vietnamese who were canonised in 1988.
Most local Catholics and clergy moved to the south to avoid communists’ persecution after French troops were defeated by communist forces in 1954. Those who remained had their religious activities banned, many church facilities were closed or confiscated and only six priests were ordained from 1953 to 1977.
The diocese started to repair or build churches and resume religious activities in the late 1980s after Vietnam opened up to the world and eased its religious regulations.
At least 16 new parishes have been established since 2006 in the diocese, which has 95 priests serving about 150,000 Catholics.