Cablegate: Two Newly-Appointed Catholic Bishops Discuss Growth And

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1. (SBU) Summary: Two of the three new Vietnamese bishops named
by the Vatican earlier in the summer recently met with the
Consulate to share their positive experiences in overseeing
Catholic communities in the southern part of the country. One
of the two, Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, will be heading north to
Phat Diem diocese in Ninh Binh province and will be replaced by
Father Joseph Dinh Duc Dao, who is coming directly from the
Vatican. The second bishop, Vu Duy Thong, will remain in the
south, where he will take over Phan Thiet diocese in coastal
Binh Thuan province. In their meetings with the Consulate, both
bishops focused on taking care of their growing flocks and
expanding social work activities while tactfully choosing to
eschew discussion of recent land disputes in the North. End

A Northern Homecoming for Father Nang


2. (SBU) For Joseph Nguyen Nang, becoming Bishop of Phat Diem
diocese in Ninh Binh province will be a sort of homecoming. His
family, like many others, left Ninh Binh in 1954 after the
country was partitioned and Catholics were encouraged to move
south by former Republic of Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem.
Bishop Nang acknowledged that moving to Phat Diem diocese, which
has approximately 152,000 followers, will be a major change from
Xuan Loc, which is home to around 846,000 Catholics. Bishop Nang
said living standards in Phat Diem are still relatively low for
most residents, so a major part of his mission will be to try
and "improve socio-economic conditions" there. He also
acknowledged that northern Catholics "continue to struggle," but
steered clear of commenting on recent troubles in Vinh diocese.

3. (SBU) The opulence of the Xuan Loc Bishop's headquarters in
Dong Ngai province where Bishop Nang received PolOff was a clear
indication of the Catholic community's growth and prosperity in
what became Vietnam's most Catholic region following the 1954
partition. The expansive complex was recently completed in 2008
and includes a seminary, a palatial residence and a pastoral
center set amidst well-manicured gardens and marble statuary.
Bishop Nang has been the rector of the seminary since 2006. The
seminary currently has around 250 students engaged in a six-year
course of study, with approximately 45 new seminarians and 45
graduates annually.

Expanding Social Work Through Caritas


4. (SBU) In addition to describing his role at the seminary,
Bishop Nang discussed the diocese's expansion of social services
for disaster relief victims, people living with HIV/AIDS,
orphans, the homeless and the elderly. He proudly displayed a
group photograph from a recent visit by international
representatives of Caritas, the Catholic charity that
re-established its presence in Vietnam in October 2008. Bishop
Nang said he enlisted the Vatican's support to help build the
new Caritas office in Ho Chi Minh City (scheduled to open this
Fall) during his visit to the Vatican with Cardinal Man and
fellow Bishops in June. Bishop Nang also said his appointment
process went smoothly, having been completed in the relatively
short time period of roughly four months. Once Bishop Nang
moves to his new diocese in Ninh Binh on August 31, he will be
replaced at the seminary by Father Joseph Dinh Duc Dao, who will
be coming directly from the Vatican.

Bishop Thong Tends the Faithful in Phan Thiet


5. (SBU) In HCMC, PolOff met with newly appointed Bishop Vu Duy
Thong, who has worked for over fifteen years as a professor of
theology at the Catholic seminary here. Like its counterpart in
Dong Nai, the HCMC seminary is set in a sylvan oasis in the
heart of the city and has been recently refurbished with modern
facilities, a large cultural center and a host of programs for
parishioners. On the day of our meeting, the center was

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bustling with activity as over 1,000 altar boys from across the
diocese participated in a day camp program.

6. (SBU) Bishop Thong cheerfully anticipated his August 31
transfer to coastal Binh Thuan province, where he will take up
his new appointment as the Bishop of Phan Thiet diocese, a small
but thriving Catholic community of approximately 155,000
parishioners, 59 parishes, 39 sub-parishes and 90 priests. Phan
Thiet, which was founded in 1974, is the youngest diocese in
southern Vietnam. Like Xuan Loc, many of Phan Thiet's
parishioners are migrants from the North who arrived after 1954.
(Note: Because the region was one of the areas to which many
families with connections to the former government of South
Vietnam were relocated after being expelled from HCMC following
the war, a number of Catholics in the region probably arrived
from 1974 to 1980. End Note.)

7. (SBU) Bishop Thong showed Poloff a photo album commemorating
several special events in Phan Thiet, including the gathering of
approximately 2000 Catholics on the 13th of each month to
commemorate Our Lady of Fatima. (Note: The name is a reference
to the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd
children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, a celebrated Catholic
miracle where the sun appeared to have "danced across the sky."
End Note.) Bishop Thong said he would continue several
charitable programs set up by retiring Bishop Nguyen Thanh Hoan,
including a micro-credit program for poor residents to buy stock
for animal husbandry and scholarships for poor but gifted
children to attend school.

8. (SBU) Comment: While these Southern Catholic leaders are
cautiously optimistic about the Church's continued expansion
under Vietnam's legal framework on religion, senior HCMC church
leaders continue to cite property issues and difficulties in
expanding social work initiatives as ongoing issues, though they
do appear to have more leeway than their northern brethren when
it comes to pushing the envelope. Lest you think southern
Catholics less fiesty, you only need to turn to the nuns from
the Congregation of the Lovers of the Thu Thiem Holy Cross, who
recently refused to budge when the HCMC officials tried to move
them to build a "multipurpose commercial area" on their land.
Thus far, the authorities are respecting their stance.

© Scoop Media

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