Friday, March 03, 2017

Vietnamese Catholics remember 'humble' bishop

Thousands of Catholics in central Vietnam have mourned the death of an elderly bishop respected for his humility and for his efforts at building the local church during difficult times following the country's reunification.

Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang, a past president of the bishops' conference, died of old age at the Bishop's House in Nha Trang on Feb. 14. He was 86.

More than 5,000 people attended his funeral on Feb. 18 at Christ the King Cathedral in Nha Trang. Many wore white mourning bands and bought souvenirs containing the late bishop's photo. 

The cathedral was packed and many mourners had to content themselves taking part in the service via outside. Bishop Hoa was buried at the Marian grotto in the compound of the cathedral.

Cardinal Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi presided at the funeral, joined by Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, non-resident representative of the Vatican to Vietnam, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam, and 25 other bishops.

Cardinal Nhon said Bishop Hoa was a father, teacher and friend. "His death is a great loss to the Catholic Church in Vietnam and especially Nha Trang Diocese," he said.

Bishop Hoa was president of the bishops' conference in 2001-2007. He introduced many episcopal candidates to the Holy See for approval and he ordained many bishops.

A senior priest, who asked not to be named, said that Bishop Hoa was regularly questioned by police for a decade and was restricted from doing pastoral work. "He kept calm in these circumstances and worked with authorities in a proper and frank way," he said.

The priest said that after the government enacted their "open door" policy in the late 1980s, the late bishop was able to visit parishes, restore associations, send priests to study abroad, build a major seminary and churches.

"He lived a simple and humble life. He had friendly relationships with priests and clerics from other religions. He abstained from money and material possessions but quietly helped people in need," said the priest, who worked with the bishop for years.

Cardinal Nhon said the late bishop spent years composing hymns that Catholics in the diocese still sing to strengthen their faith. He also composed many well-known hymns used in liturgical services by choirs throughout the country.

The cardinal said that the late bishop took various positions in the bishops' conference and worked in humble and patient ways for the church's interest. He dealt with internal problems among religious congregations and united them.

Bishop Hoa was born in the northern province of Ha Nam in 1931 and moved to the south in 1954. Two years later he went to study in Rome and was ordained in 1959.

He obtained a doctorate in theology and bachelor in church music in 1963. After returning to Vietnam, he served the dioceses of Da Lat and Ban Me Thuot.

Bishop Hoa was appointed bishop of Nha Trang on April 24, 1975, six days ahead of the country's reunification under communist rule.

Records from 2015 state there are 6,756,000 Catholics in Vietnam including 210,000 in the Nha Trang Diocese.

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