The Catholic Church in Vietnam is taking a leading role in post-war reconstruction while trying to mend religious divisions between north and south, according to an American anti-war activist who recently visited the country.
Don Luce, director of Clergy and Laity Concerned, was among four Americans invited to the ground breaking ceremony for a hospital being built near the site of the Mylai massacre. The four represented Friendshipment, a coalition of U.S. religious and peace groups, which raised $150,000 toward construction of the 100-bed facility.
The delegation met with Catholic Archbishop Nguyen Van Binh of Saigon who urged them to "please tell the American people to force the U.S. government to normalize relations with Vietnam. "Speaking of the Church's mission within Vietnam, Archbishop Binh cited its effort toward unity and consolidation.
"A Christian has two legs: one is for religion and the second is his responsibility to all the people. Without both legs, he cannot walk," he noted.
In the north, the delegation met Cardinal Trinh Nhu Khue who stressed the need for more priests. According to the cardinal, fewer than 300 priests minister to a total of 1 million Catholics in that region of the country. He cited one instance in which a priest with 10,000 parishioneers had "spent five hours giving communion."
Throughout Vietnam, church staffs still work in government-run schools and ophanages, Luce said. He characterized the church-state relationship in the country as "Separate on religious matters, but cooperative on social projects."
Despite a state-religious takeover of Catholic schools in August, 1975, nun-teachers still wear habits, Luce said.
In assuming control over education, he said the government wanted schooling to be universal rather than a class privilege. The only exception to this centrally administered education system are the seminaries. They still come under control of the Church, Luce said.