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Christian Values with a Vietnamese Twist On Show


Private collection of books pays tribute to missionaries who bridged cultures with written works

A Christian book collection assembled by a Catholic diocese in southern Vietnam aims to promote Christian values while also preserving elements of the national culture.

Some 60 people including book collectors and writers attended the opening ceremony of the Christian Cultural Materials Exhibition held at Hanoi’s Archdiocese’s Exhibition House on January 15.

Father Joseph Nguyen Huu Triet, head of the archdiocesan ministry committee of culture, said the goal was to raise public awareness of the importance of preserving texts authored by local Christians.

Many important works have already been lost or damaged, and more are at risk of getting lost in the annals of history in the digital era as people ditch old printed works in favor of e-books, Catholic collectors say.

Father Triet, whose hobby is amassing antiques, said Christian books have made a great contribution to developing national cultures and traditions, for example through the work of missionaries in helping to bridge different languages by creating dictionaries.

He recalled how Catholics in Vietnam worked with foreign missionaries to create the Vietnamese alphabet, a script based on the Latin alphabet that is known as chu quoc ngu, or the “national language script.”

The newly created alphabet, like the Catholic works that drew on it, was originally used as a vehicle to promote the Catholic faith to Vietnamese back in the 17th century.

More recently, the Church published a dictionary of Catholic terms in Vietnamese in 2016 to help people understand the Christian faith, evangelize and avoid misunderstandings.

And this year a diocese in northwest Vietnam launched a language course for ethnic-Hmong Catholics to further boost evangelization efforts and preserve old writings by foreign missionaries. 

Catholics have also served as pioneers in introducing various forms of music, plays and publications to the country.

Father Triet, 74, said the exhibition features 1,507 books, some of which are nearly three centuries old. They will be on display to the public until May.

Most were collected by the priest. The rest come from church centers, government-run book companies, and individuals.

They focus on Christian values and fields related to culture, philosophy, humanity, psychology, literature, the sciences, technology, and social development.

Father Triet described the exhibition as “an opportunity to show our deep gratitude to our Catholic ancestors.”

Paul Tran Quang Chu, who donated three books, said they draw on the theological values in poems and writings composed by Han Mac Tu, a famous Catholic poet who died of leprosy in 1940 at the age of 28.

Chu, 73, said he was inspired by Han’s religious devotion and how he refused to stop composing magnificent poetry despite battling various illnesses at different stages of his life.

Han “set a shining example for future generations of how we should trust in God,” Chu said.

Despite the obvious merits of Han’s works, book reviewers today would most likely ignore their Catholic dimension altogether as we live in an increasingly secular world, he said.

After browsing the collection, Dominican Sister Mary Vu Thi Mong Hang said the books remain relevant as they provide instruction on how to deal with problems people still face, regardless of their faith.

Sister Hang, who works with Catholic youth groups, made a record of several titles that caught her eye, so she could search for them to read at a later date.

“Books are useful to me for the work I do with young people,” she said.

Peter Nguyen Khac Dung, a Catholic singer, said the exhibition highlights the importance of preserving literary and cultural relics given that so many have been lost over time.