Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — This Lent, Vietnamese bishops are urging their priests to reach out to people who have problems in their marriages while asking Catholics to pursue family values in this year of New Evangelization of Families.
Before Ash Wednesday, bishops from the nation’s 26 dioceses published their letters that give local Catholics pastoral practices in the season of Lent. Last October, the Vietnamese bishops declared 2014 the Year of New Evangelization of Families.
“As ministers of reconciliation and mercy, priests should provide special care and accompany those who suffer from broken marriages, instead of criticizing them,” Archbishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi said in his letter dated March 2.
Archbishop Nhon urged local priests “not to let couples whose spouses have divorced them in an unjust way be prevented from receiving sacraments.” They have to help those who have illegal marriages in terms of the canon law legalize their marriages, he added.
The 76-year-old archbishop said those who have divorced and remarried should be looked after so that they can feel God’s love, while the universal Church is seeking proper solutions to their problems in God’s will.
The former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam also asked priests to give absolution to parents who held their children’s weddings in disagreement with the cannon law, or who have divorced according to civil laws yet have not remarried, after they make real contrition.”
The local church’s 2012 statistics reported that the Hanoi Archdiocese, covering Hanoi City and eight northern provinces, had 138 priests serving 346,000 Catholics.
Some church workers said there are a great number of Catholic couples who are prevented from receiving sacraments. They include those who gave up their faith or stopped practicing their faith in order to seek jobs at state-run agencies, those who are forced by the government’s two-child policy to have abortions or use artificial contraceptives, and those who live in remote areas that have been without priests for decades and have had to hold their weddings without church rites.
Archbishop Nhon warned about prevailing drug abuse, gambling, adultery and abortion, which are destroying families, parishes and society.
“Many children and adults are addicted to online pornography, youths have premarital or casual sex, parents intentionally have abortions, and internal migrant workers who live away from their families commit adultery,” he pointed out.
He urged local Catholics give up their bad habits and return to God in Lent.
“You should give material support to your neighbors who live in poverty or with physical disabilities and to pregnant women in need – regardless of their faiths,” he said.
Bishop Anthony Vu Huy Chuong of Da Lat asked family members to love, respect and receive one another and to have discussions, while Bishop Joseph Vu Duy Thong suggested Catholics avoid adultery, abortion and domestic violence – and take responsibility for bringing up children.
At the same time, other bishops asked Catholics “to build their families of love and prayer” by gathering to say evening prayers, taking active part in parishes’ pastoral and charitable activities, and bearing witness to the Gospel. They also urged Catholic families to reduce their daily expenses and support poor families in their parishes.
In 2012, Vietnam had 6.5 million Catholics among the total population of 90 million, served by 4,600 priests.
[Joachim Pham is an NCR correspondent for Asia based in Vietnam.]