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Old Saigon Echo website
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Director: Bai An Tran, Ph.D.

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Vietnam ''Vagabond'' Bishop

He is a bishop with a particular jurisdiction. He does have his own See. But, as the nick name suggested, one has more chances to see him in the woods, or street sidewalks, seeking missionary opportunities, rather than at his office.

People can see him embrace unwanted lepers, chased away deep into jungles by their own communities. They can also see him share a sweet potato, his most common lunch, with a Montagnard, or collect litter around the church after a Mass he has just presided. They can even see him be held at a police station or at a People’s Committee office being insulted and warned by local officials for preaching in an area marked as “No Religion Zones”. But among all the most unforgettable experience is the breathtaking scenario when he was chased away by militiamen who shot in spray of bullets from their AK-47 riffles into the air or at destinations close to him as a warning not to come to their villages to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Appointed on July 16, 2003, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh has led the diocese of Kontum since his ordination as bishop on Aug. 28, 2003. The diocese with 25,758 square meters is one of the largest dioceses in term of areas in Vietnam.

 bp micaehoangducoanh1

Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh
Walking in remote areas to look for missionary possibilities

Latest statistical figures show that among the population of 1,438,395, Catholics make up 15% or 216,384 members served by 39 diocesan priests with the constant reinforce of a dozen of religious priests.

Bishop Michael Hoang has been dubbed with many loving nicknames for his burning desire for seeking the souls of people, and his courage to stand up for justice.

Despite threats and efforts from the local government who has established “No Religion Zones” in most areas in the North of The Central Highlands, and vivaciously attacked any attempts to build prayer houses in the region, he has managed to made historic records in the history of mission of the Church in Vietnam: 30,000 Montagnards converted to Catholicism in 2008, and more than 20,000 in the next year.

Ironically, at the same time, many archdiocese and dioceses with large and beautiful churches have experienced sharp declination of the Catholic percentage of population.

Explaining the paradox, Redemptorist Father Tung Duong, who has suggested the title “Vietnam vagabond bishop” for Bishop Michael Hoang, refers to the zeal of the prelate for evangelism.

“Spending most of his funds for mission,” said the priest who is also a writer, “he lives so simple in a one bedroom apartment crammed with books.”

“Furthermore, he works closely with his priests in missionary fields seeking all possible ways to open up new possibilities,” the Redemptorist added.

Above all, people admire him for his courage to live up to what he believes. In a country where terror has reigned for almost a century, the dictatorship in Vietnam, more than one time, got shock receiving his letter: “Enough is enough, I tell you,” wrote the prelate in a letter to the President and the Prime Minister of Vietnam published in August 2008. "In this country numerous of the farmers and the poor have pleaded for years for the requisition of their properties but all in vain, as the authorities chose to persecute rather than to take care of them!"

There is no doubt Vietnamese Catholics are so proud with their courageous Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet and Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, quoting them as active factors for the mission of the Church in Vietnam.

In recent years, debates on the mission of the Church spark again almost every year on the Christmas season when activities of “patriotic” Catholics are more bustling than any other time of year: One can see on television channels, newspapers and magazines “patriotic” priests embrace communist leaders in their arms, after exchanging flowers, luxurious gifts, and of course diplomatic speeches full of compliments.

This Christmas, after two more monasteries fell into the hand of the communists within just one month of December 2010 one of Redemptorists in Dalat and one of Sisters of Divine Province in Can Tho, one still can see in a news report, broadcast again and again on state television channels, Fr. Nguyen Cong Danh, chairman of the so-called “Vietnam Committee for Catholic Solidarity” warmly thank the regime for its “great help” for the Church in Vietnam after praising it for “great progress” in “all aspects of the society”.

Some argue that such a “diplomatic” activity is necessary and good for the Church. It would make her life a lot much easier, especially in carrying out her mission duty.

Catholic journalist J.B. Nguyen Huu Vinh, who was beaten to half-death at Dong Chiem early this year, disagreed. “It’s so naive to think that way. The regime has manipulated and exploited for propaganda purposes all exchanging visits, and public appearances made by Catholic clergy, up to the point that the Church’s creditability has been put at risk, and so her mission.”

“I feel bitter and shameful seeing on television channels and other media outlets 'patriotic' priests praise the government with extra-ordinary flowery language. They damage the image of their own Church,” he continued.

Sharing the same view, Fr. Joseph Nguyen in Hanoi added “Such blatant lies from a priest in such a public sphere ridicule his faith and his Church.”

“In archdioceses and dioceses where ‘patriotic’ activities are so bustling, the number of baptisms is quite moderate and far behind the population increment,” the journalist observed.

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