Pastoral Letter 1980 of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam (CBCV)
to all priests, religious and lay people of the whole country
INFORMATION ON THE NATIONAL EPISCOPAL PLENARY ASSEMBLY
1. In the feeling of gratitude
Dear brothers and sisters,
Please with us give thanks to God for the National Episcopal Plenary Assembly with bishops from our whole country, held in Hanoi, our capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, from 24-4 to 1-5-1980.
Since the establishement of the Hierarchy of Vietnam in 1960, and especially since the unification of our country, we all desire to have this meeting. The Holy See and especially Pope John Paul II when given the opportunity always express such a sentiment, expressing the will of the very Second Vatican Council.
So we are sincerely grateful to the government for helping and creating favorable conditions for this Assembly. We also thank you for praying for the great success of this assembly.
2. A working week
We are happy to see each other, and during a working week, we get chance to understand the situation of the dioceses in the whole country. Thus we see that, despite living far apart, our hearts are still one, and share the anxiety, excitement and aspirations of the entire people of God in this beloved country.
In this spirit of communion, we have been praying and thinking more about the mission of our Church in this period of history. We have reviewed the regulation and reset the structure of the CBCV. We are also preparing to attend the Bishops' Synod V with the theme "Functions of the Christian family in the world today", and the Ad Limina of Vietmamese bishops to visit the tombs of Apostles Peter and Paul at the Vatican in Rome this year according to Canon Law.
Before closing the meeting, we have visited the tomb of President Ho Chi Minh, and had an audience with the Prime Minister.
3. Meaning of the Ad Limina
Visiting the tombs of the Apostles and attending the Bishops' Synod in Rome express two characteristics of the Church of Christ which are catholicity and communion, while reflecting the spirit of collectivity and co-responsibility of the bishops toward the universal Church. Please pray for us to fulfill this mission.
4. Organization of the CBCV
We also have to work together to fulfill all responsibilities of the bishops in the spirit of collectivity and co-responsibility. Therefore, the establishment of the CBCV is to serve you more effectively, because according to Second Vatican Council, an episcopal conference is, as it were, a council in which the bishops of a given nation or territory jointly exercise their pastoral office to promote the greater good which the Church offers mankind, especially through the forms and methods of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the age (Christus Dominus 30,1).
A. A CHURCH FOR THE HUMAN BEINGS
5. Light from a message
Dear brothers and sisters,
Stepping into this new phase of the nation, we want to admire the example of Pope Paul VI in the beginning of his papacity. In his first message with the title "Church of Christ", he was thinking more about the mission of the Church in the world today. His main concern is around three major ideas. The first is that it has been the time for the Church to have a deeper perception of herself, to meditate on her mystery. The second is "to bring the real face of the Church today comparing with the ideal image of the holy and stainless Church as Christ saw, wanted and loved" (cf Ep 5:27), from which generating "a generous and urgent desire to renewal." And the third - as the conclusion of the two above ones - is about the relationship between the Church and the world (Lumen Gentium 9-14).
The Pope added that, these three ideas must also be the concern of all members of God's People. So we introduce these topics with you to meditate everyday.
6. The Church is God's People
The Second Vatican Council based on the history of redemption to learn and present the essence of the Church. In the plan of redemption for mankind, God took the covenant to gather together a lineage to be his own People. And through this People's history, he has revealed himself and his intention of redemption to the entire mankind. But this People are just an image and preparation for the new People of God, which is brought together by the new covenant that Jesus Christ establishes in His holy blood.
This new covenant People is the Church of Christ, bringing together all people from every corner and country on earth, over time and national boundaries. It is Holy Spirit who unites them and so, when freeing them from sin, Holy Spirit makes them God's children. His new commandment is charity (Jn 13:34) and from the very beginning, they are members of a organized community with various missions established by Jesus Christ himself because of the good for all His Body (Lumen Gentium 18). The purpose of the new People is "to develop the Kingdom of God until the completeness" (Lumen Gentium 9,3).
7. Church for the human beings
Old People had the mission to receive the redemption for the whole mankind. New People has the mission to bring the redemption to every nation and every people of every age, as the Second Vatican Council said: "Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, New People is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13-16; Lumen Gentium 9.2).
He uses them as instrument of salvation, because "God does not want to sanctify and save minkind seperately and with no links, but to gather them into a people so that they know Him in truth and serve him in holiness " (Lumen Gentium 9,1). Therefore, the ultimate goal in all activities of the Church is to bring mankind and all the reality of the world to share the life, love and truth of God. In this sense, the Council calls the Church as "sacrament, that is a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium 1).
Therefore, the mission of the Church is to bring the Gospel permeating and perfecting the realities of the world (Apostolicam Actuositatem 5). No human activity may be seen as strange to the mission of the Church, and vice versa, no activity of the Church is not related to all human life. Preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments bring grace of God to human life, and earthly life of believers brings the reality of man to God. So, for the Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation (Gaudium et Spes 43).
In short, the mission of the Church is the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve all mankind. As Pope John Paul II explained in his message "Redemptor Hominis" that: "Man is the way of the Church", all the ways of the Church are the path to human being (Redemptor Hominis 14). This is also the meeting point between the Church and secular society, because "all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live." (Gaudium et Spes 21 , 6).
B. CHURCH IN THE HEART OF THE NATION
8. Church of Jesus Christ
To help our Church in Vietnam to be consistent with the nature and mission of the Church as said above, we propose the following pastoral way: we must be the Church of Jesus Christ in the heart of Vietnam nation.
To be the Church of Jesus Christ means:
- Sticking to Christ and being united with universal Church.
- Sticking to Pope, the vicar of Christ, who is given by God the responsibility to "shepherd his flock" (Jn 21.15 to 18), and "make their siblings strong." (Lk 22, 32)
- Sticking together in brotherhood in the model of the early Church: "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." (Acts 4.32; 2.42).
- Being faithful to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council which means the spirit of openness, dialogue and social integration with the community we live.
To achieve this purpose, we must convert our conscience ceaselessly and change the way of life of every individual and every community of God's People in Vietnam so as to be consistent with the Gospel. This work we do by listening to the Word of God, receiving the sacraments, devoting ourselves to pray and sincerely reviewing our life (Ad Gentes 15).
9. Sticking to the nation and the country
As the Church in the heart of Vietnam nation, we are determined to stick to the destiny of our homeland, following the national tradition and integrating in the current life of our country. The Council teaches that "the Church goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does." (Gaudium and Spes 40,2). So we have to go forward together with our people, share the common life with our nation, because this homeland is the place where we are called to live as God's children, this country is the womb carrying us in the process of implementing the vocation as children of God, this nation is the community that God gives us to serve as citizens and members of God's People.
This sticking integration leads to specific tasks that we may summarize in two main points:
- Actively contribute with people throughout the country to protect and build our fatherland.
- Constructing in the Church a way of life and an expression of faith in accordance with national tradition.
10. Together with all the fellow-countrymen to protect and build our fatherland
On the first task which is to actively contribute with all the fellow-countrymen to protect and build the fatherland, we want to confirm that: to love the country and fellow-countrymen, for Catholics, is not only an natural innate emotion, but also a requirement of the Gospel, as the Council reminds: "The Christian faithful gathered together out of all nations into the Church are not marked off from the rest of men by their government, nor by their language, nor by their political institutions, and so they should live for God and Christ in a respectable way of their own national life. As good citizens, they should be true and effective patriots." (Ad Gentes 15)
Our patriotism must be practical, that is, we must be aware of the current problems of the country, understand the guidelines, policies and laws of the State, and actively contribute with all fellow-countrymen to protect and build Vietnam to be a prosperous, free and happy country.
In the service of the homeland, the Gospel gives us light and strength to overcome the difficulties and the selfish tendencies, uphold the service spirit of universal charity, leading towards "New Heaven and New Earth" (Rev. 21.1), of which all are in happiness and harmony. And when striving to eliminate the negative things, we have the grace of the Risen Christ to put on the new righteous and holy person.
11. Building in Church a way of life and expression of faith in accordance with national tradition
On the second task is to build in the Church a way of life and expression of faith in accordance with national tradition. We want to implement the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: "Through the work of the Church, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men, whatever good lies latent in the religious practices and cultures of diverse peoples, is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God and the happiness of man" (Lumen Gentium 17,1). To do this, on the one hand we have to deepen the Bible meditation and theological development to master the essentials of the faith, on the other, to delve into the way of life of each ethnic group in the country to discover the values of each nation. Since then, we apply the beauty in every cultural treasure and build a way of life and an expression of faith in accordance with the tradition of every people that are living together in our homeland and in this church community.
ADDRESSING TO ALL MEMBERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE
12. To the laity
To the laity, we would like to express our admiration for your piety through reciting prayers, celebrating Mass and receiving sacraments. We thank you for your traditional respect, obedience and help towards us and the apostolic workers.
We would like to rely on the Council to tell you that: your vocation is to become holy in secular world by living the Gospel of Christ in your earthly duties (Lumen Gentium 31; Gaudium et Spes 43). Thanks to you, the Church is present in the society and contribute to build the material and spiritual life of the nation. Your great obligation is to live as the faithful members of the Church of Christ and the good citizens of the country. To help you to fulfill that obligation, we strongly remind you the following several points:
Believe in the grace of the Holy Spirit poured in your soul to nurture your prayer life: pray in your individual life, in your family and parish, and especially, please deepen your faith through studying and teaching catechesis even in your family. In his Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis, Pope John Paul II reminds us that: "Family catechesis therefore precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis" (Catechesi Tradendae 68). Your family must become like a school of faith, a place of prayer, an environment of charity and apostolic mental training to be witnesses for God (Acts 22, 42; Lumen Gentium 11; Apostolicam Actuositatem 11; Ad Gentes 71).
But, first at all, your family must be built in accordance with canon law. We earnestly call young people to cultivate pure love, and when getting married, make arrange for your marriage filled with God's blessings.
The effort to build Catholic family in the spirit of the Gospel should at the same time to develop in you and your children the virtues of good citizens, especially the sense of truth and righteousness, and fine willingness to serve the interests of the country. Thanks to such a presence and active living among secular world, you will glorify God and contribute effectively to the development of the country.
13. To the religious men and women
For the religious men and women, we appreciate your presence and contribution in the life of God's people. Church of all time always appreciate religious vocation as a sign of maturity and rich life of local Church. Therefore we would like to say to you: be convinced of the meaning and value of your noble vocation. Though outside activities change, your special mission will always be "the embodiment of a Church wanting to offer herself to the radical way of the Beatitudes", and you "use your own life as a sign of your available spirit to serve God, Church and fellows-people" (Ad Gentes; Lumen Gentium 44).
You yourselves will see that the way we design for the entire Church in Vietnam "to live the Gospel in the heart of the nation" will suit your available spirit to serve, particularly suit your vocation. Therefore, please be an example for the laity by actively going on that way.
We specifically invites you to be interested in keeping the law of your congregation, then work together to find out - through thinking and dialogue - a healthy balance for your consecrated life: how to reconcile between labor and prayer, between the commitment to social activities - not only for subsistence, but to be a witness for the Lord - and the loyalty to community life, reconcile between the organization of each congregation and the integration into the life of the local Church in communion with the community of God's people and the hierarchy.
13. To priests
After all, for the diocesan as well as religious priests, who are the closest collaborators of the episcopate, we thank you for your devoted dedication in serving the community of God's people. Be proud because you are getting the trust and love of the flock of God. It is Holy Spirit who accompany you to directly form the current flock of God. Please continue to do this noble work in intimate communion with us, your episcopate .
This pastoral letter disigns an obvious way: Help all faithful to live the Gospel in the spirit of love and loyalty to the Church, first in our own lives. The Second Vatican Council noted: "Among the virtues that priests must possess for their sacred ministry none is so important as a frame of mind and soul whereby they are always ready to know and do the will of Him who sent them and not their own will." (Presbyterorum Ordinis 15). Apply these words first of all for the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, which is the means Jesus Christ would like to use, through your priest ministry, to build up His Body in a special way. In what related to pastoral direction and liturgical life of the Church, unify your activities with one another and with your episcopate for the good of God's People, because you are "educators of faith" (Presbyterorum Ordinis 6; Catechesi Tradendae 64).
Also make Jesus Christ truly present among God's flock, when you serve the faithful with devotion and humility (Presbyterorum Ordinis 15). Especially, being recognized as the official representative of Church in your region, become the image of Christ, the meek and humble Pastor, to offer salvation to all. Would you please join us to lead the Church in Vietnam going in the chosen way, which is to live the Gospel in the heart of the nation to serve the welfare of the people!
14. The past, present and future
Dear brothers and sisters, more than anyone else, we - your bishops - are aware of the limit of our ability and talent toward the obligations to God and the country. Please pray for us!
In the past, we feel a deep affection toward the good hand of God which was quietly and strongly guiding the Church in our Vietnam country. We appreciate the merits of countless believers, who showed clearly their faith and patriotism. Do not look the past with the negative complex and judgment. History is always a mix of light and shadow, as well as the lives of the children of God have both grace and sin. But based on the love of God the Father, based on the Word of life of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, let us boldly look at the present and trust in the future.
We have the teachings of the Second Vatican Council as the cool wind of Holy Spirit blowing in the Church; we are proud to be citizens of an independent, heroic and unified Vietnam; and on the common advancing impetus of our entire country, we have the sympathy and help of our fellow-coutrymen in the national union association, so let us joyfully fulfill our glorious mission.
Then with God's help and available situations, we hope to be able to gradually offer suitable recommendations on specific activities for all of us working together, each one depending on his/her position and ability, to contribute to build our Fatherland and the Church in Vietnam.
May God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the Patron Saints of the Church in Vietnam, give you all his abundant Blessings!
Ha Noi, May 1, 1980
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam