Friday, July 19, 2013

Latin Mass in Hanoi: Travel Impressions of a Healthy Church

(Hanoi) The situation of Christians in Vietnam, one of the last Communist "paradises", is very difficult. The regime varies in its dealing with the Catholic Church and sees it as a competitor of his absolute claim to power. Vietnam still triggers shudders from Americans of the middle and older generation and is equally known by Europeans. The north of the country in 1954 of Indochina under Communist control prosecuted a war against France, then south in 1975 during the Vietnam War against the United States. A success that was only possible because it was primarily a struggle for national liberation from foreign rule in both wars for many Vietnamese. "The prospect of seeing their own daughters grow up in a Communist, but Vietnamese country, the majority Buddhist Vietnamese were less horrified at that time less at a Communist takeover for them, than to imagine a future in brothels for GI's and rich Americans," [You mean the Socialists don't frequent brothels?] said a French Foreign Legionnaire, who fought at Dien Bien Phu. The Catholics chose between unfreedom and poor experience of freedom, for the latter variant, which could secure them the necessary freedom to develop and to deal with the scale of Christian freedom. The Americans were defeated in a fierce battle. Since 1976, Vietnam was reunited under the official designation Socialist Republic of Vietnam. For Christians, the country brought hards times. Already in 1954, all of the parishes of the North had fled to the South. Nevertheless, the Church has survived.

Elisabetta Galeffi has returned from a trip to the Southeast Asian country. She does not report on religio-political issues, including the persecution of Christians under the Red Flag. It is characterized by empathetic, attentive observations, the image of a vibrant, healthy Catholic community that experienced a large influx of vocations to the priesthood and the religious orders.

At Mass in Ho Chi Minh City

To cross the square, to reach Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), requires a cool head. The slalom between hundreds of motorcycles, the only escape for a breath of pedestrians in the maze, is a thrilling endeavor.

The large cathedral with two towers was built by the French in 1877-1880, with red bricks, which were specially imported from Toulouse. It is the largest Catholic church in the country. It forms the center of the Place de la Comune de Paris in the city traffic. The distinctive French main post office is on one side of the square. Opposite the gardens with the large statue of Mary, a true urban and literary monument in numerous articles of war correspondents from around the world and the novel The Quiet American by Graham Greene, which takes place in Saigon, is described. Here in the most elegant part of the economic center of Vietnam you can still imagine the old capital of Indochina. On Sunday the whole city convenes together here, sitting at the tables of the cafes or picnic on the expansive lawns of the gardens, the girls and boys have their pictures taken around the cathedral and the statue of Mary.

At 11 clock in the morning, a favorable time throughout the world, to attend the Sunday Mass that doors of Notre Dame remain closed like an impregnable fortress. Only in the early afternoon do they open and the cathedral is filled with believers within minutes. All benches are filled to the last seat. The people bring tiny folding stools and jostle in the aisles until not a meter in the church is free. The latecomers must celebrate the Mass in front of the entrance gates, many sit on their motor scooters, hundreds.

Once the celebration of Mass begins, the noise of the continuous space traversing motorcycles gives way to church music, which is transmitted via powerful speakers into the open so that they can be heard in the coffee houses and the side streets. There are often repetitive melodies in the standard national style, as you can encounter them in Buddhist temples, but are sung with Christian texts, as they are known in Western churches. It's a meeting of cultures, carried out by the graceful voices of the Vietnamese and their passion for the beautiful song.

In Hanoi, a concert of brass and drums happens at Ly Quoc Su, attracts at the center of the old town. At the end of the narrow streets appears unexpectedly, the majestic Cathedral of St. Joseph in neo-Gothic style, reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris in miniature. A huge procession of devotees follow the white-clad brass band and children in long blue robes, carrying a canopy with a small statue of the Virgin Mary. The clergy in solemn liturgical vestments stops in front of the facade of the church to bless the faithful, incense rises in dense swaths. The Joseph Cathedral was built in 1886 by naked concrete. The concrete is old and dark, capable of displaying a place of deep spirituality.

A garden behind the church offers with tropical plants and fragrant flowers offers some cooling for the rectory, a school for poor children and a dormitory. A magical garden breaks the ranks of the small streets like an oasis in the bustling chaos of the densely populated residential area of Hanoi. The Mass is an ancient rite. For those in the Vietnamese capital 6 o'clock in the evening is an exciting return to the past. The women wear their best Ao dai for the occasion, the national dress with wide-legged silk trousers covered thinly over long tight knee-or ankle-length silk robes in bright colors. They look very elegant and move with the utmost grace. The liturgy is celebrated in Latin, which emphasizes the brotherhood, even here, in the midst of such a different culture, with an indecipherable signature. The familiar Latin invites you to join in the singing loudly, to share with these people a faith that seems so honest.

In Vietnam, 9-10 percent of the population are Catholics. [They were a majority before the War] The number of practicing Catholics is very high and the vocations are numerous. They form by the Buddhists, the second largest minority in a country that in its overwhelming majority is atheist, according to official figures.

Traveling the country from south to north, you will encounter along the main axis, numerous churches that were built during the French colonial rule from 1858 to 1954. In addition to the churches in the cities, especially the elegant religious architecture surprisingly amidst the emerald landscapes and before the deep blue backdrop of the great Vietnamese rivers, the South China Sea or the Gulf of Tonkin. Even the wood and straw hut churches in the north on the border with the People's Republic of China in the rice fields of the mountains around Sapa are inviting and decorated with pious devotion and all are filled with believers, no matter where you go, and with music and songs. For the Black Hmong, an ethnic minority of the Catholic faith, the churches are the center of life of their small farming communities.

Text: tempos
 Introduction / Translation: Giuseppe Nardi Image: Tempi
Trans from German: Tancred


Anonymous said...

Hi, your blog seems interesting. I would like to know if you were able to attend a tridentine mass in Vietnam. If so, where and do you mind giving me the schedule. I am set to work there in a few months. Currently, I'm in Manila. Thanks.

D.P.M. van D. said...

All latin masses are novus ordo. The only TLM provided is the one of SSPX (Saigon Region). They fly in one a year only.