Yen Bai, Vietnam
Thousands of Catholics in a mountainous Vietnamese province who attended the first-ever Chrism Mass to be held in their remote locality say it was a sign of God’s love and has strengthened their faith.
More than 3,000 Catholics including many ethnic people attended the special Mass on April 16 outside Vinh Quang Church in Yen Bai province’s Nghia Lo district.
The Mass was celebrated outside the church because of the number of people in attendance.
Some 130 priests also attended the Chrism Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop John Mary Vu Tat of Hung Hoa.
It was the first such Mass to be held in Nghia Lo deanery since local parishes were established 100 years ago.
“It was a completely new experience for me,” Joseph Lam Van Hung, 70, told ucanews.com after the event, adding he had never seen as many priests concelebrate a Mass like that before.
Hung, who is from Vinh Quang parish, said the Mass brought “great comfort to local people who have suffered constant persecution.”
He said his family were among 11 Catholic families who moved to the area from famine-hit Thai Binh province in 1900. French missionaries led them in building the church in 1936.
Many Catholics were publicly denounced by the communists as landlords and killed or imprisoned from 1953-64. Local Catholics had no resident priest for 40 years after the last one was jailed in 1964.
He said they have suffered various religious restrictions imposed by the government. The parish with 3,600 Catholics still has no resident priests.
“We have to follow our ancestors’ example of bravery by being united in love to develop the parish,” Hung said.
His brother Joseph Lam Van Minh, 74, said local people “were proud to host the Chrism Mass, which showed that God loves and blesses us.”
Father Joseph Nguyen Trong Duong, head of the deanery, called the special Mass a great event that will help cement the faith of 14,000 Catholics, half of whom are from the Hmong, Muong, Thai and Tay ethnic groups.
Eight priests in six parishes, 37 subparishes and five mission stations serve them.
“We priests were also inspired by the event, which actively brought Catholicism to local people,” said Father Duong, who provides pastoral care to three parishes.
He said Vinh Quang parish was named after two late French missionaries whose Vietnamese names were Vinh and Quang.
During the Chrism Mass, Bishop Tat, 75, consecrated three oils that are used in the administration of the sacraments — the oil of catechumens for baptism, the oil of the infirm for the anointing of the sick, and the oil for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders.
The renewal of priestly vows was incorporated into the Mass.
Hung Hoa, the largest of Vietnam’s 27 dioceses in terms of size, covers nine provinces and part of Hanoi.
Chrism Masses are traditionally held there before Holy Thursday so that priests have enough time to return to their parishes and celebrate Holy Thursday liturgical services.