Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Bishop's Life in North Vietnam

Bac Ninh Prelate Tells of Government Surveillance and Thousands of Youth Seeking the Church

ROME, DEC. 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Cosme Hoàng Van Dat of Bac Ninh, in North Vietnam, says he would not describe the Church of his homeland as a "persecuted Church." Yet he states with simplicity that he's sure the government watches his every move.

The 64-year-old bishop's estimation of things is clearly marked by his simplicity and deep faith. His life as a bishop is simply a mission from Christ, he notes.
Marie-Pauline Meyer for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Bishop Hoàng about his ministry and the beautiful faith found in his diocese.

Q: Is it difficult to be a Catholic bishop under a Communist state?

Bishop Hoàng: It is not difficult because I think that a bishop is the successor to the apostles that Christ sent to every corner of the world and communist countries are a part of the world and is it is necessary that there are some of His disciples in this part of the world. Vietnam is a communist country and it is difficult sometimes, but it is necessary that a bishop be present.

Q: Do you have a feeling that the government is always watching you?

Bishop Hoàng: I am sure the government watches everything I do.

Q: Would you say the Catholic Church in Vietnam is a persecuted church?

Bishop Hoàng: Many years ago yes but now, no. Years ago, the Church faced difficult times. Almost every priest and seminarian was put in prison; my vicar general spent nine years in prison when he was just a seminarian. We are now freer.

Q: You are a Jesuit. What attracted you to the Jesuits?

Bishop Hoàng: I joined the Jesuits in 1967 and I was 19 years old. It was during the Vietnam War. I thought at that time that war and weapons were not a good solution for the country. Two figures are prominent in my decision to join the Jesuits: St. Francis Xavier and Fr. Alexander de Rhodes, one of the first missionaries to Vietnam, both were Jesuits. So I applied to join the Jesuits to become a missionary and at that time I imagined my life later on as a missionary in Africa, but up to this time I have not been to Africa.

Q: What did your parents say when you told them that you wanted to become a priest?

Bishop Hoàng: My father died when I was six years old and I lived with my mother, who is very religious. She always thought of me as a young man whose preoccupation was just having fun. When I decided to join the Jesuits she told me that she could not refuse anything to God but she thought that I could never become a priest.

Q: Vietnam is growing very fast economically. Will this material progress affect the youth in their Catholic faith, or any other religion for that matter?

Bishop Hoàng: There is progress in the economic situation in Vietnam and this has many influences on the people including the Catholics. I, for instance, was content with a simple life. I was happy planting flowers. I do not need many modern things to make life comfortable. I do not know the other areas but in my diocese there is a very good tradition and the Vietnamese people cling to the traditions of their ancestors. If the parents and grandparents are pious there is no danger of us becoming atheists. For instance, during Palm Sunday I invited the youth to come to the bishop's house. I was expecting about 2,000 but 5000 showed up. Incredible!

Q: How did they all fit in your house?

Bishop Hoàng: They did and we gave them bread and a little milk, which they gladly accepted, that is all. We are poor and they accepted everything.

Q: But as a bishop you have to have material things?

Bishop Hoàng: As a bishop, I have to have these -- computer, car -- but when I was a priest, I travelled with a bicycle. Moreover, prior to my nomination as a bishop, in Hanoi I went to celebrate Holy Mass traveling on a bicycle for 15 kilometers (nine miles) one way. I was happy with just a bicycle. Now I am not able to travel on a bicycle.

Q: Your diocese is Bac Ninh in the north of Vietnam. Can you describe it for us?

Bishop Hoàng: We have more than 8 million people and 125,000 Catholics. Most are farmers. We are poor, poorer than in Hanoi. You cannot even compare it to Europe. We face many difficulties. We have lost most of our properties and 50% of our churches were destroyed during the war.

Q: How would you describe the faith, despite the small Catholic population?

Bishop Hoàng: Catholics in my diocese have a very strong faith but they do not have a strong spiritual and intellectual formation. It is very difficult but I think their faith is very good. They go to church every week, sometimes even twice or three times a week in many villages, and I think that with such a faith we have a future.

Q: You have worked with lepers for a long time. What was your initial reaction?

Bishop Hoàng: Initially I was afraid of them but with my better understanding of them, my heart overcame the fear and I learned to care and love them. It was difficult at first to eat with them but after some time, I was able to eat with them without any problem.

Q: Do they live outside the city?

Bishop Hoàng: They are free and are allowed to live anywhere but they have decided to live together to provide each other support. They often do not receive visitors when they live with their families or are refused hospitality when they wish to visit outside their families. I have many leper friends.

Q: What can we do for the Catholic Church in Vietnam?

Bishop Hoàng: We firstly need your prayers and material help. We need money for the formation of priests, nuns and lay catechists. We also need churches for the Catholic farmers because a church is very important to the life of a Catholic farmer who goes there two or three times to pray. We need a small and simple church for these people. It is a sign of their faith and also very necessary for the consolidation of the faith and the education of the faith of the children.

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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34002?l=english

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pope's Address for Feast of Immaculate Conception

"Mary, in Fact, Is Wholly Associated With the Victory of Jesus Christ"

ROME, DEC. 8, 2011 (Zenit.org)- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today in honor of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The great feast of Mary Immaculate invites us every year to gather here, in one of Rome’s most beautiful piazzas, to offer homage to her, to the Mother of Christ and our Mother. With affection I greet all of you who are present here and those who are joining us via radio and television. And I thank you for your choral participation in my act of prayer.

At the top of the column that we crown Mary is represented by a statue that in part recalls the passage from the Book of Revelation that was just proclaimed: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and, upon her head, a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). What is the meaning of this image? It represents both Our Lady and the Church.

First of all the “woman” of the Book of Revelation is Mary herself. She appears “clothed in the sun,” that is, clothed in God: the Virgin Mary is in fact surrounded by the light of God and lives in God. This symbol of the luminous garments expresses a condition that regards the whole of Mary’s being: she is the one who is “full of grace,” filled with the love of God. And “God is light” as St. John says (1 John 1:5). This is why she who is “full of grace,” the “Immaculate” reflects with her whole person the light of the “sun” that is God.

This woman has the moon beneath her feet, the symbol of death and mortality. Mary, in fact, is wholly associated with the victory of Jesus Christ, her Son, over sin and death; she is free from every shadow of death and is completely filled with life. As death no longer has any power over the risen Jesus (cf. Romans 6:9), thus, by a grace and a singular privilege of almighty God, Mary has left death behind, she has overcome it. And this is manifested in the two great mysteries of her life: at the beginning, being conceived without original sin, which is the mystery that we celebrate today; and, at the end, being assumed in soul and body into heaven, into God’s glory. But also her whole life on earth was a victory over death, because it was spent entirely in the service of God, in the complete offering of herself to God and neighbor. Because of this Mary is in herself a him to life: she is the creature in whom the word of Christ is already realized: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it in abundance” (John 10:10).

In the vision of the Book of Revelation there is another detail: upon the head of the woman clothed in the sun there is “a crown of twelve stars.” This sign represents the 12 tribes of Israel and means that the Virgin Mary is at the center of the People of God, of the whole communion of saints. And thus this image of the crown of twelve stars introduces us to the second great interpretation of the celestial sign of the “woman clothed in the sun”: besides representing our Lady, this sign personifies the Church, the Christian community of all times. She is pregnant, in the sense that she carries Christ in her womb and must bear him for the world: this is the suffering of the pilgrim Church on earth, who in the midst of God’s consolations and the world’s persecution must bring Jesus to men.

It is precisely for this, because she brings Jesus, that the Church meets the opposition of a ferocious adversary, represented in the Book of Revelation by the “great red dragon” (Revelation 12:3). This dragon sought in vain to devour Jesus – the “male child destined to govern all the nations” (12:5). The dragon tries in vain because Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has ascended to God and he has taken his seat upon his throne. This is why the dragon, defeated once and for all in heaven, turns his attacks toward to the woman – the Church – in the wilderness of the world. But in every age the Church is sustained by the light and by the power of God, which nourishes her in the wilderness with the bread of his Word and the Holy Eucharist. And so in every tribulation, through all of the trials that she meets in the course time and in different parts of the world, the Church suffers persecution but is always victorious in the end. And precisely in this way the Christian community is the presence, the guarantee of God’s love against every ideology of hatred and egoism.

The only threat the Church can and must fear is the sin of her members. While, in fact, Mary is the Immaculate, free from every stain of sin, the Church is holy, but at the same time she is stained by our sins. This is why the People of God, in pilgrimage through time, turns to its heavenly Mother and implores her help; it asks this so that she might accompany us on the journey of faith, that she might encourage the undertaking of a Christian life and support our hope. We need her above all in this very difficult moment for Italy, for Europe, for various parts of the world. Mary helps us to see that there is a light beyond the dark clouds that seems to envelop reality. For this reason we too, especially on this occasion, do not cease ask for her help with filial confidence: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Ora pro nobis, intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-33954?l=english