A diocese in Vietnam ordained 34 new priests in just one day despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic and the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“It is precisely in this dramatic situation that the new priests, like the ‘Good Samaritan,’ bring care and mercy to the wounded hearts,” said Bishop Alphonso Nguyen Huu Long of the Diocese of Vinh.
The prelate presided over the ordination of the 34 new priests on July 25 in a celebration that was attended only by a limited number of people due to the prevailing health crisis.
Vietnam’s health ministry reported 8,649 COVID-19 cases on Friday, a new daily record, as the Southeast Asian country battles its biggest coronavirus outbreak yet.
In his homily, Bishop Huu said the ordination of the new priests is a “moment of great happiness in a time of great suffering in many parts of the world.”
He noted that many people are “fighting hard against the COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam” and it is into this situation that the new priests will be “missionaries in remote places.”
The bishop said he would send some of the new priests to other dioceses in the country “so that all the faithful can have good access to the Good News of the Gospel.”
“In the context of the scarcity of priests, and while the population suffers severely from the pandemic … I have decided to share half of these new priests with isolated territories,” said Bishop Huu.
He said some of the priests will be sent to the Diocese of Hung Hoa where about 250,000 people live in mountainous and lowland areas.
“Evangelization is the task of every baptized person,” said the bishop, adding that the mission of every priest is “to lead men and women to God in order to have the gift of salvation and eternal life.”
“Priests are called to show their availability and happiness when they are sent for a pastoral service or for a mission in remote areas, in poor countryside or in regions that are difficult to reach,” he said.
He said priests should serve in places of conflict or where there are natural disasters, or even in areas of pandemic because it is where they are most needed “to provide material and spiritual comfort (and) help in overcoming pain.”
The bishop said it is “not easy to find young people willing to give their lives to serve people in difficult and dangerous places.”
“But the Lord continues to call young people ready to bring the seed of faith and the love of God to brothers and sisters in difficulty,” he said.
“In the Diocese of Vinh, we are blessed by God because he has given us so many priests and we are happy to share this precious gift with places where people desperately need a priest,” said Bishop Huu.
Jesuit missionaries brought the Catholic faith into what is now the Diocese of Vinh in 1629. The territory became a vicariate in 1924 and was only elevated to being a diocese in 1960.
The Catholic Church in the country was badly affected by the war in the 1970s, churches collapsed, religious activities were limited, and the faithful had to move to other places.
In 1988, the local Church reopened its major seminary, providing religious formation to students from the Dioceses of Vinh and Thanh Hoa.
New churches and facilities were built while old parishes and associations were revived.
In recent years, the Catholic Church in Vietnam saw a growing number of priestly vocations. In 2019, before the pandemic, the country had about 5,000 priests and more than 5,000 seminarians and students.
Data from the Religious Committee of the Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam show that as of early 2019, the Church had 307 religious congregations and associations with a total of 33,087 religious, including 28,099 nuns and 4,988 religious, with 1,670 religious priests.
In his homily, Bishop Huu said that the Church in Vietnam “ask(s) our new priests to dedicate their lives to service and to the glory of God until the rest of their lives, not worrying about where they will live, but only thinking about bringing souls to God.”