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Laying the foundation for an academic and pastoral partnership with the Catholic Church in Vietnam, Boston College hosted Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, Nov. 3 through Nov. 7. Cardinal Man was among 31 new cardinals officially elevated by the pope Oct. 21.
The idea for a partnership emerged from a friendship between Cardinal Man and Father Julio Guilietti, SJ, director of the university’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality. The new cardinal met with BC experts in health care, religious education, library science and liturgical music to discuss ways in which the university can help Vietnam develop in these areas.
In July, Cardinal Man “asked if it would be possible for BC to develop an educational partnership on areas that would be helpful to people of the archdiocese and his nation,” said Father Guilietti.
Father Guilietti welcomed the partnership. He praised Cardinal Man’s efforts to increase dialogue between the Catholic Church in Vietnam and the government, a relationship with a history of tension. The communist country has a population of roughly 80 million, only eight percent of whom are Catholic.
"Cardinal Man has opened up doors with the Vietnamese government," said Father Guilietti. "Buildings that were confiscated are now open as the result of good conversation and dialogue."
According to Father Guilietti, the partnership will focus on four elements: using the reputed musical skills of the Vietnamese to enhance their liturgical celebrations; educating the laity and the youth in pastoral care and ministry; opening clinics for family care and hospice services; and creating an organization of libraries.
“Greetings from Vietnam,” Cardinal Man said to students, BC officials and members of the media at a Nov. 4 press conference at BC. Cardinal Man went on to describe to those gathered the current social and religious environment in Vietnam.
Cardinal Man stated that in the years since 1975, when the government of North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam making it a unified Communist country, many Vietnamese immigrated to other Asian countries.
He noted that approximately 12,000 Vietnamese are in Japan, 15,000 in Korea, 60,000 in Taiwan and thousands more in Malaysia and Indonesia.
"Among those, many are Catholic people, so we have a responsibility to give pastoral care to Catholic Vietnamese and workers," he said. "I have a responsibility to give pastoral care, but I don't know how to do it, so I have to learn."
Cardinal Man is hopeful that his partnership with BC will help him offer pastoral care and assist the Catholic Church to further the academic and social development of Vietnam, through such things as opening schools and hospitals. The government currently has restrictions prohibiting religious organizations from establishing such institutions.
"It is a challenge to participate in the development of the country," he stated. "Until now religious organizations are not allowed to do it. I try to get Catholic lay people to do it, but until now, the Catholic people do not have any Catholic hospitals or Catholic schools. We hope in the future in some way we can do it with the help of God and other people."
Recently, Cardinal Man has gained more influence with the communist government of his country, saying that some officials see that the Catholic Church can aid in the advancement of the country.
"I told the government, if you close the door you need new air, so open the door," commented Cardinal Man. "There are many members in the Communist party who want to do it, but not all agree with it, but some would like to open the door more widely."
"When we open the door, we have more friends and it's easier for development of the country," he continued.
While the Vietnamese government has given the Church more freedom, it is a “restricted freedom,” said Cardinal Man.
It was initially reported that the Vietnamese government refused to recognize Pope John Paul II’s decision to elevate Cardinal Man to the College of Cardinals. However, after a recent meeting with the Government Committee on Religion, officials decided to honor Cardinal Man’s appointment.
At an Oct. 1 meeting with the Bureau of Religious Affairs, Cardinal Man said that he was asked whether he would accept the pope’s appointment.
"I told them that when the pope announces some things, we have a responsibility to do it," he recalled telling the government officials. "You cannot refuse it."
"I told them that 'cardinal' is a title, not a change; it doesn't add anything," Cardinal Man continued. "Only my robe changes color, that's all."
According to Cardinal Man, the government requested that he write a report of what his duties would be as cardinal. The day after submitting the report, the government publicly welcomed his elevation to cardinal.