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ICC Note: While the government doesn’t always arrest and torture all Christians, they persecute them by discriminating against them. They have to work in fields for very little money, and the government follows the church leaders watching their every move.

Poor Vietnamese migrants have mission without church

by Nguyen Van Tranh

10/31/06 Vietnam (AsiaNews) – Fr Giacobe Ta Chuc became parish priest of a community of 1,500 Catholics in the villages of Gia An and Vu Hoa a few months ago. But neither he nor his parishioners have a church big enough to celebrate Mass. The parish priest told AsiaNews: “To come to church, Catholics must travel at least 10km. Our meeting place is a small hall measuring 80 square meters, built in the nineties, where we also have catechism. But the community is so poor that its members do not even have books or copybooks. We teach and study catechism by word of mouth.” Despite this abysmal poverty, the community has grown: from 1979 to date, the number of Catholics has grown from 200 to 1,500. Every Sunday, the small hall is packed. Members of the community flock inside and outside the building. “Adults come to mass even on weekdays, very early in the morning before going to work,” one parishioner told AsiaNews. “But we need a new church. We hope we manage to find the funds because the mission here is large and promising.”

The story of Gia An parish started back in 1979, when 34 families – 205 Catholics in all – were forced by the regime to migrate to a new economic region called Binh Thuan (in south-east Vietnam). All came from Thai Binh in the north.

Although the government has exalted economic outcomes in these areas, for Catholics – often discriminated against – there is only poverty. Most of them live on less than a dollar a day, employed in fields or in the production of bricks. Many families do not even have enough to feed their children, who survive by begging on the streets of big cities. Since 1979, the local government has strictly monitored the community, taking bibles and holy books and having leaders followed.

The small parish hall of Gia An was built in 1992 by Fr Francis Xavier Dinh Tan, who was appointed by the then-bishop of Phan Theit, Mgr Nicholas Huynh Van Nghi. The path leading to the small building has eroded so much with time that elderly people and children no longer dare to travel along it to attend Mass. So on Saturday, the parish priest goes to the homes of such parishioners to celebrate Mass there. The new bishop of Phan Theit, Mgr Paul Nguyen Thanh Hoan, has given the go-ahead for the construction of a new church but the community needs to raise at least 130,000 US dollars. The community has already raised 10,000.

Asia News