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The State of Catholicism in Vietnam PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 09 March 2009 10:52
From Vietnam comes an article about the state of Catholicism that sounds so familiar. Such challenges and concerns aren't just for western Christians anymore. (Via VietCatholic News)

The Archdiocese of Saigon has concluded that the percentage of Vietnam's population that is Catholic has dipped slightly over the past 60 years: from 7.5% to 7.15%

Initially I found it surprising that the Vietnamese Church has responded with such alarm to a relatively small decline. This report is very much at odds with the tone of a much more positive 2006 Christian Science Monitor article:

"Today, his 19th-century cathedral is packed with worshippers on Sundays, and Catholic seminaries are expanding. New churches are mushrooming in this corner of northern Vietnam where Catholicism has sunk deep roots. Fr. Phuc is amazed at the rapid growth. "In the past 10 years, almost every year a new church is built. I can't keep track," he says."

Snip.

"Of the six official religions recognized by Vietnam, Catholicism ranks second behind Buddhism. It has between 5 million and 7 million followers, concentrated mostly in the south, and is reportedly becoming more popular among young urban Vietnamese who are enjoying the fruits of the country's rapid economic growth."

The other shoe dropped when I read further in the VietCatholic piece:

"while the rate of Catholic population in Vietnam has decreased within the last 50 years, other Christian denominations have enjoyed a surge in people joining their churches. In 1999, these denominations had 400,000 members. This number has quadrupled to 1,500,000 in 2008 according the latest report."

“These figures are a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of the Church’s mission in Vietnam during the last 50 years,” Fr. Anthony Nguyen lamented.

There's the sting. Historically, Christianity in Vietnam has basically meant Catholicism. (The modern Vietnamese alphabet was created by a Jesuit missionary.) A 400% growth in non-Catholic Christianity over the past 10 years while Catholic numbers are very slowly declining is a bit of a shock. The non-Catholics seem to be the usual mixture of evangelical and independent congregations, many meeting in unofficial house churches.

The Archdiocese of Saigon also comments on:

"the alarming rate of adult converts who do not keep on practicing their faith after their baptism. Within the past 7 years, there have been approximately 35,000 adult conversions to Catholicism annually, 80-90% of these through marriage. Unfortunately, the number of converts through marriage who remain active in practicing their religion gone down dramatically due to complications many people have to face after converting to Catholicism such as losing privileges and promotions at certain jobs, or facing subtle discrimination from the atheist government."

and

"the indifferent attitude towards the missionary duty among the faithful has been noticeable. Many assume that the clergy is solely responsible for evangelization, not lay people. In addition, many Catholics have not been living their lives to bear witness to Christ and to make Him known to all those who have not yet received the Gospel message. Their personal and religious lives have not made any good impression on their non-Catholic neighbors and friends."

and

"the indifferent attitude towards the missionary duty among the faithful has been noticeable. Many assume that the clergy is solely responsible for evangelization, not lay people. In addition, many Catholics have not been living their lives to bear witness to Christ and to make Him known to all those who have not yet received the Gospel message. Their personal and religious lives have not made any good impression on their non-Catholic neighbors and friends."

And the article ends with this most prescient summary:

"Among all aspects, Christology is the one that has received most attention, since the decisive element of every Christian life lies in the response that must be given to the question Christ asked: "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Without a correct understanding of the person of Christ, of His nature, of His significance and of His message addressed to the human race, Christianity lacks authenticity."
 

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