WASHINGTON (November 29, 1999) -- The President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference issued a statement expressing appreciation for improvements in the daily life of the people of Vietnam in recent years, including greater religious freedom.
Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza also said that he and other members of a delegation of U.S. Catholic bishops who recently visited Vietnam urged government officials to remove the remaining restrictions on the life of the Church, as soon as possible.
One of the most questionable practices, Bishop Fiorenza said, is the tight control over the admission of candidates to study for the priesthood, especially the long delays imposed before being admitted to the seminary.
"We strongly encouraged a rethinking of such measures that seem to express a fear of that tenth of the Vietnamese people, the Catholic community, that seeks only to be patriotic and productive citizens, free to express their commitment to Jesus Christ and to His Church," Bishop Fiorenza said.
The statement, Peace, Reconciliation and Religious Freedom in Vietnam, was issued on November 24--Feast of the Martyrs of Vietnam. The statement recounted the experiences of U.S. Bishops who visited Vietnam from August 26 to September 2, 1999. The delegation went to Vietnam in response to the invitation of the President of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, the Cardinal Archbishop of Hanoi, His Eminence Paul Joseph Tung, and his fellow bishops.
Accompanying Bishop Fiorenza were bishops representing the committees of the Conference most related to the issues: Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the Committee on International Policy, Bishop John Cummins, member of the Migration Committee, and Bishop John Ricard, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services.
The delegation met with the bishops and numerous clergy, religious and laity in each of the three areas visited. They celebrated public Masses in the packed cathedrals of Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City, and visited seminaries, religious houses, centers of formation, schools, clinics, and orphanages. They also paid homage to Our Lady of LaVang, whose national shrine is the site of pilgrimage from all over Vietnam.
The U.S. bishops' delegation met in each city with civil authorities, including the leadership of the People's Committee and of the Religious Affairs Bureau, and in Hanoi with the Permanent Deputy Prime Minister.
"It is our fervent hope that the authorities come to understand that the responsible exercise of religious belief not only does not threaten the peace and good order of society but can positively enhance the general well-being of all," Bishop Fiorenza said.
"We pray that the Catholic community in the United States may find many ways of expressing our solidarity and support, as we continue to strive for full religious freedom and reconciliation both within the Vietnamese family, among those in this country as well as in the homeland, and between our two nations."
The November 24 Feast of the Martyrs of Vietnam commemorates native Vietnamese as well as a number of missionaries from other countries who shed their blood preaching the Catholic faith in Vietnam between the 16th and 18th centuries. In 1988, from the great number of Vietnamese martyrs, Pope John Paul II entered 117 names into the catalogue of saints, including Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and companions.
Text of Bishop Fiorenza's statement, Peace, Reconciliation, and Religious Freedom in Vietnam.