Vietnam: Catholic University opens during Jubilee

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Vietnam: Catholic University opens during Jubilee

By Paolo Affatato

In Vietnam, the Jubilee begins with a dream come true: the country’s first ever Catholic University is to open its doors to the public. The news of this historic turning point is official following the signing of a decree by the Vatican Congregation for education on 14 September and delivered to the Vietnamese Bishops’ Conference. The Vietnamese government had already given the green light on 6 August this year, after year-long negotiations with the Church, showing a renewed propositional approach to how the relationship between religions and society is conceived.

Bishop Dinh Duc Dao, President of the Episcopal Commission for Education, confirmed the university’s forthcoming opening to Vatican Insider, joyously stating: “It is a work of God, with our strengths we helped make it happen. It is a work of mercy that we will carry out in the Holy Year with renewed gratitude towards God and with compassion: the service of education implies a deep attention to others,” he explained.

2016 will therefore be remembered as the year when the Catholic Church’s presence and freedom in the educational sector is no longer a taboo. This comes after 60 challenging years in which the communist authorities forbade the Church from being involved in the educational field.

Gone are the days when assets were confiscated, when the local Church lost prestigious universities founded by the Jesuits, such as the Da Lat and Saigon universities and the Pontifical College St. Pius X, which contributed to the formation of South-East Asian clergy.

In the north of Vietnam, the Catholic Church was stripped of its educational freedom in 1954, when the communist party ascended to power. In 1975, the ban came into force in the south too, where Catholics ran more than 2,000 educational structures, from nurseries to higher education institutes.

The Church has waited for this moment for a long time and it is not referred to as a “crucial moment” or as the “beginning of a new era” purely for emphatic purposes. The first ever Catholic theological institute became a reality after lengthy co-ordination and organisational efforts and after the patient cultivation of relations with both the government and the Holy See.

Bishop Dao explained the bishops’ project to Vatican Insider: “We are ready for the operational phase. The structure and statutes have been ratified both by the government and the Holy See. The official inauguration will take place in January and courses will begin in April.”

The institute will be able to confer recognised titles such as the baccalaureate, a licence and a doctorate in Theology. It will offer courses in sacramental, dogmatic and moral Theology but also in Liturgical and Biblical Studies. It will be equipped to teach Spirituality, Missiology, Canonical law, as well as Philosophy, Psychology and Human Sciences.

The teaching staff will include Vietnamese and foreign bishops and theologians. The courses will be taught in the official language, Vietnamese, but there are potential plans to train students in the English language as well, in order to give course an international breadth.

For the library, the idea is to make the most of new technologies, speeding up the gradual building of an appropriate fund: seminaries and other theology institutes will be asked to provide scanned copies of many texts, in order to make them available in electronic format, at least for the time being.

The reasons behind this choice are clear: “The Church has always been very eager to participate in the education sector, as it was once fully involved in it. Then there were also internal needs that needed to be catered for. Today our Churches are packed with young and energetic people but the aim is to take it one step further, delving even deeper into the faith,” Dao explained.

“The nascent theology institute,” he continued, “is a point of arrival but also a point of departure: we wish to share our faith, which established itself here almost 500 years ago and helps bring the Gospel first and foremost to Asia and then ad gentes.”

The new faculty will be temporarily based in the offices of the Episcopal Conference in Ho Chi Minh City, while a definitive base is found on the outskirts of the city. The institute will also be open to lay people and the aim is that it will also provide training to catechists and teachers.

Another plus could result from this historic step: “We hope that in the future the Church and other religious communities will be able to go back to running educational structures of all kinds and levels, definitively,” the bishop said.

This positive outcome is the result of the Vietnamese Church’s constructive approach towards its relations with the government, despite the limits and difficulties it has faced in recent decades. The seed of mutual trust has germinated, bringing to light the first Catholic university of a new era.

Sat, 12/19/2015 - 21:55
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