Interview with Vietnamese Bishop of Ho Chi Minh

Interviewed by Ando Isamu SJ
Jesuit Social Center staff (Migrant Desk)

  Bishop Do Manh Hung of the City of Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) came to Japan, on September 25 on the occasion of the ordination to the priesthood of 2 Jesuit Vietnamese seminarians, Fr Dinh and Fr Nha. The Jesuit Social Center invited him for an interview.

  We asked him to inform us about the situation in Vietnam concerning the movement of people from the countryside to the cities and how the Catholic Church there reacts to the challenge. On the other hand, Japan has accepted tens of thousands of young people from Vietnam, many Catholics among them. Is any special care taken to prepare them to work in Japan? Or is there any move to coordinate efforts with those working with them here?

Q1 Can you tell us your position and work in the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference?
  I am responsible for the Episcopal Committee for pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, a consultation office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV). Our office has a team to assess and analyze the situation of migrants in the country, especially in HCM City and make suggestions and proposals to the CBCV for effective pastoral action.

  Take the case of HCM City. The city, formerly Saigon, is located in South Vietnam and has a population of about 8 million people, of whom 700,000 are Catholic. Moreover, there are 5 million migrants that have come from the countryside looking for jobs or opportunities to study, or to find a new life there.

  We work in collaboration with Caritas Vietnam, which has branches in most parishes of the city, and we try to contact migrants in order to know their real situation and problems. We make statistical studies and try to analyze their situation. Lately, we have prepared a pastoral guide for migrants and presented it to the CBCV for approval. A new initiative is initiating contacts with other national bishops’ conferences where there are Vietnamese in diaspora.

Q2 Besides your concern for internal migrants what about migrant workers overseas?
  We face many challenges with this migration issue. Our stand is to work in close collaboration between the CBCV and other similar conferences. Practically all episcopal conferences have a special office and committee for migrants and itinerant people. I came to Japan looking for practical ways to establish cooperation between the Japanese and Vietnamese episcopal conferences. Some location and personnel are needed to which Vietnamese migrants could easily have access. I hear that Japan is home to over 200,000 Vietnamese working here. On the other hand, there are about 100,000 Japanese in Vietnam and we have started to hold monthly Masses for them in our HCM pastoral center. Our bishops’ conferences in both countries should officially recognize that.

  I just have met Bishop Matsuura who happens to lead a similar office in the bishops’ conference here. We discussed ways to respond pastorally to the challenge of the Vietnamese workers. I am thankful to the Japan Province of the Society and for the work you are doing in the Jesuit Social Center, as well as for the work done by Fr Takayama in Kobe. I came to appreciate the generosity of the Catholic Church here welcoming migrant workers and students from the arrival of the boat people in the 1980s up to the present. During my short stay here, I was informed of the difficulties, misunderstandings, and abuses Vietnamese are facing in Japan. But, on the other hand, the Church is assisting many of them to integrate into Japanese society and is helping them to strengthen their Christian faith.

  We need to have some center. We need to find a way to establish a kind of a central office where migrant workers and students can freely come for direction and professional advice, for religious education, and to form life communities. I understand that there are many Vietnamese priests and religious in Japan ready to continue their generous support so as to enable Vietnamese communities to grow in faith and social capabilities. There is even an offer of a place, provided that our CBCV Conference and the Japan Bishops’ Conference reach some agreement. But, of course, to implement this plan we need a lot of help to train.

Q3 Could you offer your vision on how both our churches can collaborate?
  The collaboration I envision concerns three main categories:
  ―to support a pastoral plan for Japanese expats in Vietnam and Vietnamese expats in Japan,
  ―to aim at evangelizing these expats by presenting them a face of God and of the Church, full of love, through sincere concern and charity,
  ―to promote and encourage priestly and religious vocations among the young volunteers who participate in the service of migrants.

  Thank you for your interviewing and assistance which made my trip fruitful.

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