Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vietnam Church Re-establishes National Caritas

October 27, 2008

LONG KHANH, Vietnam (UCAN) -- Church leaders hope their newly re-established national Caritas organization, which the government banned 32 years ago, will stimulate the local Church's charitable activities.

Five local bishops and 80 nuns, priests and laypeople from congregations and dioceses throughout the country attended the inaugural conference of Caritas Vietnam, held Oct. 22-23 at Xuan Loc Diocesan Pastoral Center in Long Khanh, 1,630 kilometers south of Ha Noi.

Indian Bishop Yvon Ambroise of Tuticorin, Caritas Asia president and one of seven vice presidents of Caritas Internationalis, American Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, special advisor to Caritas Internationalis on HIV and AIDS, attended. Five representatives from Caritas Germany, Secours Catholique (Caritas France) and the U.S. Church's Catholic Relief Services were also present at the conference organized by the Vietnam Bishops' Conference's Episcopal Commission for Charitable and Social Action.

"We thank God for the reestablishment of Caritas Vietnam, which will stimulate the local Church's charitable and social activities more effectively and integrate them within the network of Caritas Internationalis," Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat, head of the Vietnam Bishops' Conference, stated at the conference.

Bishop Nhon expressed his gratitude to the government, who had given its official approval for Caritas Vietnam on July 2. The Church leader also hoped government authorities would create favorable conditions for the national Church organization to conduct its activities and develop society.

The 70-year-old prelate noted urgent needs to educate youths, provide health care for women and children, assist poor and marginalized people as well as victims of natural disasters, and protect the environment. "We hope Caritas Vietnam will make positive contributions that help relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters and improve their living conditions."

Caritas, Bishop Nhon clarified, is not only a charitable organization but also focuses on community development to urge people to care for the disadvantaged. Meanwhile, it is also an association for Catholic action that asks all Christians to show God's charity and preach Christ's Good News by helping the poor, he added.

Father Antoine Nguyen Ngoc Son, secretary general of the bishops' commission for social action, told UCA News that the South Vietnam Bishops' Conference established Caritas Vietnam in 1965. It provided relief for disaster victims, war victims, poor people and disabled people. In June 1976, however, the communist government, which had reunified the country in April 1975, banned Caritas Vietnam and confiscated all its facilities.

Father Son had told UCA News previously that diocesan committees for social and charitable work that tried to fill the void lacked skilled personnel, and some had no staff. A few dioceses still have not established such committees.

Bishop Dominic Nguyen Chu Trinh of Xuan Loc, head of the commission, said in his opening speech that wars and ideological conflicts left Caritas Vietnam a victim of misunderstanding about its charitable activities. "Today, with this inauguration ceremony, we believe those misunderstandings and suspicions exist no longer, so that all people can cooperate with one another in the work of building love. Yes, only love really exists forever," he stated.

Bishop Trinh, 68, promised Caritas will work with the government for the nation's development and prosperity, especially in efforts to alleviate people's poverty and misery, and to prevent illnesses.

During the two-day conference, participants approved the national organization's goals, guidelines, mission statement, operational principles and organizational structure. Accordingly, Caritas aims to serve abandoned people, street children, orphans, prostitutes, ill-treated people and victims of exposure to toxic chemicals, migrant workers, disabled people, mental patients, people with leprosy, drug and alcohol abusers, and people infected with HIV or AIDS.

Participants elected Bishop Trinh and Father Son as Caritas Vietnam's president and secretary general, respectively. They also decided to establish Caritas organizations in the country's 26 dioceses.

Father Son said the national Caritas has officially opened a bank account in a state-run bank, noting that no Church organization had previously been allowed to have a bank account in post-1975 Vietnam.

Foreign Caritas representatives briefed participants on upcoming activities, and promised to help train local Church personnel and provide financial support.

"We are very happy the local Church has re-established its Caritas after we prayed a long time for it," Monsignor Vitillo told UCA News. The president of Catholic HIV and AIDS Network added that Caritas Internationalis now has an opportunity to work closely with the local Church to serve the poor.

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