By Paul Nguyen Hung
Since 1969, Redemptorist priests and laity have baptised 40,000 ethnic Jarai, as well as Bahnar and others. Now the latter have become missionaries among their neighbours and friends.
Kontum (AsiaNews) – Tens of thousands of worshippers, priests in the Diocese of Kontum (central Vietnam) and Redemptorists have celebrated 50 years (1969-2019) of missionary work among the communities of Vietnam’s central highlands, home to ethnic Jarai, Bahnar and others (Montagnards).
The celebrations, which included pastoral and cultural activities, were held mainly on October 14-16. Participants shared stories about these 50 years, ending with a Thanksgiving Mass led by the Most Reverend Aloisio Nguyễn Hùng Vị, Bishop of Kontum.
Currently, dozens of missionary centres can be found across the region, in Plei Ply, Plei Cuet, Cheo Reo and Plei Cuet.
During the Thanksgiving Mass, Father Peter Nguyễn Vân Đông, vicar general of the Diocese of Kontum, described the work of the Redemptorists.
The Diocese has more than 300,000 members out of a population of 1.8 million, divided into 116 parishes. Out of 141 priests, 29 priests are Redemptorist, plus three nuns from the same congregation, to serve 61,000 Catholics divided in various tribal communities.
“Among the latter, 45,000 are Jarai, 6,000 are Bahnar and 10,000 are Vietnamese,” said Father Ngông. “The Redemptorists have baptised at least 40,000 of the 45,000 Jarai. In the last 50 years, their priests have built 14 churches and 77 chapels in different villages.”
“Christians are trained and sent,” he added. “In the Bible, Jesus sent 72 disciples to preach to everyone. Today, Redemptorist priests and religious accompany 61,000 people and invite them to go out and proclaim the Good News to others, just as Pope Francis said in his message for the Extraordinary Missionary Month.”
Father Anton Lê Ngọc Thanh, a Redemptorist, spoke about the mission’s history. “Fifty years ago, on 10 October 1969, Monsignor Paul-Léon Seitz Kim brought four Redemptorists to Kontum to start preaching among the Jarai. At that time, this whole area was deserted with very few Kinh people.”
“Between 1969 and 1985 the number of Jarai who came to the Christian faith was very small, perhaps 6 or 7. For 20 years, Redemptorists’ missionary work was very simple: live with these people, work with them, and learn their culture.”
“In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonised 117 Vietnamese martyrs,” said Father Joseph Trần Sĩ Tín. “Since then, the Jarai who lived between Pleiku and Kontum begun to seek out the faith. They also visited the Redemptorists and received the Word of God. Over this period, the Redemptorists have taught the catechism and provided the sacraments.”
At the end of the Thanksgiving Mass, Bishop Aloisio Nguyễn Hùng Vị, on behalf of the Diocese, thanked the Redemptorists, priests and laity, for their dedication, and urged the congregation to continue sending priests and brothers on missionary work in Kontum.