VIETNAM Religions need more freedom to serve society, say speakers

DO SON, Vietnam (UCAN) -- Religious organizations in Vietnam want to serve the country and its people. But in order to do so, they must be given the necessary freedoms, said a Catholic Church leader.

Archbishop The speaking at the conference
Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu The of Hue made this point during his opening speech at a Feb. 12-14 international conference in the northern town of Do Son.
About 150 foreigners and local people attended the event, which had the theme, "Social Responsibility in the Context of a Market Economy."
It was organized by the Vietnam Bishops' Conference, the state-run Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and Institute of Philosophy, and Misereor, the German bishops' social-service agency.
Archbishop The, 75, pointed out that since the Vietnamese government's doi moi (renovation) policies emerged in the late 1980s, people's lives have begun to improve. However, many in cities and remote areas still live in poverty and do not have adequate access to education and health care.
He pointed out that legal barriers prevent religions in Vietnam from taking part in activities related to education, health care and communication. Religious organizations are only allowed to run day-care centers and clinics, he noted.
"We are ready ... to serve the country and people," Archbishop The stated. "We wish to be treated fairly and to work with people of goodwill to give material, educational, health care, and moral and spiritual values to the people."
Augustine Vuong Dinh Chu, a lay Catholic speaker, agreed. He told the conference that religions should be allowed more freedom to use the media to provide religious information to followers. Vietnam's laws forbid the setting up of any kind of private newspaper or magazine, he noted.
Chu, who spoke on media responsibility from a Catholic perspective, observed that the country's two Catholic weeklies -- the Ha Noi-based "Nguoi Cong Giao Viet Nam" (Vietnamese Catholics) and Ho Chi Minh City-based "Cong Giao va Dan Toc" (Catholicism and Nation) -- are approved by the Vietnam Catholic Committee for Solidarity, a branch of the government.
Chu, former deputy chief editor of "Catholicism and Nation," which has a circulation of 15,000, said the local Church's official bi-monthly magazine, "Hiep Thong" (Communion) is only allowed to publish 100 copies.
A total of 40 speakers, including 14 Catholics, presented papers at the conference. These dealt with topics such as the state's social responsibilities, problems facing youths and families, social teachings of the Catholic Church and the activities of Caritas Vietnam, the local Church's social-service agency.

Augustine Vuong Dinh Chu delivering his paper
Dominican Father Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, a conference organizer, said the event was an opportunity for local Church people and communist scholars to engage in constructive dialogue. This will allow the latter to help the government make policies benefiting people and the local Church in the future, he told UCA News.
Father Hop said the local Church and the Institute of Philosophy plan to conduct a symposium on the attitudes and lifestyles of Vietnamese people in late March in Ho Chi Minh City.
Father Hop, who heads the Church-run Paul Nguyen Van Binh club, said his club and the state-run Institute of Religious Studies plan to conduct a symposium on the beliefs and lifestyles of Vietnamese Catholics in October.
The club is named after the deceased former archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City who worked with communists in a spirit of dialogue. Members include priests, Religious and Catholic intellectuals.
The Feb. 12-14 conference was the second such conference to be held. The first was in 2007.
Foreign participants for this conference came from China, Germany, Guatemala, Laos, Lebanon, Peru, South Korea and Taiwan.

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