Vietnamese diocese blessed with 34 new priests

As Vietnam battles its worst surge in the Covid-19 pandemic, Vinh Diocese has been blessed with an abundance of priestly vocations, many of whom will be serving in other territories of the nation.

By Robin Gomes

“It is a day of great joy, a day of great blessing in the Diocese of Vinh, which rejoices for 34 new ordained priests who will also be missionaries, where the Lord will call them to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel.”  This is how Bishop Alphonse Nguyen Huu Long of Vinh introduced the solemn Mass of the priestly ordination which he presided over on Sunday, the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported.

‘Good Samaritan’ amid suffering

He noted that his diocese was “living this moment of great happiness, at a time of great suffering in many parts of the world” due to the surge in Covid-19 infections, including in Vietnam.  The Mass could be attended only by a limited number of religious, seminarians and faithful of the diocese due to the Covid-19 health protocols.

Precisely in this dramatic situation, he pointed out, the new priests will be the ‘Good Samaritan’, “bringing care and mercy to wounded hearts, and they will also be missionaries in remote places or even in three dioceses, where the Lord will call them to live”. “Evangelization,”  he recalled, “is the task of every baptized person; the proper mission of every priest is to lead men and women to God in order to have the gift of salvation and eternal life”.

Happy to serve anywhere

Bishop Alphonse said that priests are called to be available and happy to serve anywhere, including in remote mission territories, poor countryside or in areas hard to reach. “The population in places of conflict, or where there are natural disasters or a high risk of contagion from a pandemic,” the bishop said, “really need the presence of priests for material and spiritual comfort, in order to help overcome pain and receive hope”.  Bishop Alphonse noted that the Lord continues to call young people despite the fact that nowadays many are unwilling to dedicate their lives to serve people in difficult and dangerous places.  

‘Fidei Donum’ priests

“In the context of the scarcity of priests, and while the population suffers severely from the pandemic and other causes, after a prayer discernment, I have decided to share half of these new priests with isolated territories, in other dioceses that lack priests,” Bishop Alphonse said.  He is sending some of them as ‘Fidei Donum’ priests in the northern Diocese of Hung Hoa, where there is a shortage of priests to serve about 250,000 faithful in 10 provinces in mountainous and lowland areas.   

The expression ‘Fidei Donum’ is the Latin for ‘the Gift of Faith’.  This is the name of the 1957  encyclical of Pius XII, which called on all bishops to share his vision “to face the challenges of the universal mission of the Church”. This involved not only by means of prayer and assisting each other but also by making priests available to other dioceses, countries and continents.  These priests, who while serving elsewhere are still attached to their own dioceses, are referred to as “Fidei Donum” priests. Turning to the new priests, Bishop Alphonse urged them to show their love for God by repeating in their hearts, “Lord, I come to do your will”. 

Vietnam’s Covid-19 burden

The Communist-ruled country, which successfully contained the coronavirus outbreak throughout 2020, is now experiencing its worst wave so far.  Its Covid-19 numbers have surpassed 6,000 infections a day for the past week.  The health ministry on Monday reported 7,882 new cases, up from 7,531 cases on Sunday and just shy of the record of 7,968 set on Saturday.  Most cases are concentrated in Ho Chi Minh City and its neighbouring provinces, the ministry of health said.

It has recorded more than 109,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, with at least 524 deaths.  A fifth of those cases have occurred between July 23 and 25. 

In this situation, the Catholics in all the diocese are working to provide for the essential, material and spiritual needs of the people in the quarantine areas and other people in need. Some priests, religious and Catholic laity are also volunteering to provide pastoral, spiritual and humanitarian to patients in high-risk areas such as in Covid hospitals