Vietnamese diocese marks bishop’s first visit 350 years ago

The Diocese of Nha Trang has launched a year of celebrations leading up to the 350th anniversary, next year, of the first pastoral visit by the region’s bishop to the local parishes.

By Robin Gomes

Bishop Joseph Vo Duc Minh of Nha Trang launched the year-long celebration on Sunday, calling on Catholics to nurture and strengthen the faith received from the missionaries and their ancestors. 

The Catholics of the south-central diocese are marking the first visit of French Bishop, Pierre Lambert de la Motte on Sept. 1, 1671, to the local parishes at Cho Moi Church in the coastal city of Nha Trang, where today there is a diocese.

Bishop de la Motte was the first bishop of Dang Trong (Cochinchina) Vicariate that was established in 1659 and covered southern Vietnam including today’s Nha Trang Diocese.

Some 40 priests, including a representative from the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), joined the special Mass at Cho Moi Church on September 6, attended by 1,000 people.  For the occasion, local authorities relaxed the Covid-19 social distancing measures in the area on Sept. 5.

“We are happy to be in the land where our ancestors joyfully received Bishop de la Motte,”  Bishop Minh told the congregation.  “God chose the land to receive the apostolic successor.” 

At that time, when Catholics were subject to severe persecution, Bishop de la Motte, a founding member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), made his pastoral visit, accompanied by two French missionaries and two Vietnamese priests from Siam.  They arrived at Lam Tuyen fishing village, now Cho Moi Parish. 

Bishop de la Motte blessed the faithful and administered confirmation to 200 children and some adults while the visiting priests heard confessions.

The bishop established Lam Tuyen Parish and assigned Father Guillaume Mahot Mão to the new parish. He established the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation for local women. The bishop and his delegation also visited other parishes in the area.

Pointing out that the Catholic Church loves and serves all people in the name of Christ, the only Saviour, Bishop Minh said the missionaries came only to be present among their ancestors, offered pastoral care and blessed them and their land.

The bishop urged the faithful to be grateful and proud of their ancestors who were faithful to the Church, vigorously maintained their faith and courageously bore witness to the Good News.

He thus urged Catholics to work and live in harmony with others in society, joining in initiatives to help develop the nation and their society.

Bishop Minh has been appointed by the Vietnamese bishops to prepare documents for the sainthood cause of Bishop de la Motte.  The MEP missionaries have played a significant role in establishing the Church in Vietnam.

Cho Moi Parish, which is home to many martyrs, has over 3,000 Catholics.  Nha Trang Diocese, established in 1957, covers the provinces of Khanh Hoa and Ninh Thuan, which are home to 115 parishes served by nearly 300 priests.