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French missionaries to Vietnam recognised

HUE (UCAN): Church leaders in Vietnam paid tribute to the Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP) for helping hundreds of local clergy over the past 25 years at a meeting at the Pastoral Centre in Hue from on April 18 to 19.
Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, said the MEPs had sponsored 169 Vietnamese priests and 14 religious sisters to study theology, philosophy, canon law and social sciences at the Institut Catholique de Paris since 1993 after the communist government relaxed its grip on religion.
Archbishop Nguyen, who earned a doctorate in philosophy at the university in 2003, said 16 graduates had become bishops and archbishops while others taught at seminaries and leading congregations and had taken important positions in the local Church.
“The local Church has these amazing achievements thanks to the MEPs efforts to sow good seeds on the evangelisation fields in Vietnam,” Archbishop Nguyen said, adding that the society meets the urgent need for well-educated clergy to develop the local Church. The 68-year-old bishop, became an honorary member of the MEP on February 28.
MEP superior general, Father Gilles Reithinger, his predecessor, Father Jean Baptiste Etcharren, and other society members were among 140 bishops, priests and other clergy at the meeting.
The archbishop said the event was an opportunity for the local Church to show deep gratitude to the MEP and for scholarship recipients to strengthen relationships.
Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong, who finished theological studies at the Institut Catholique de Paris in 2000, said all students were grateful for the opportunities to study and mature in the faith to serve the Church in Vietnam.
“It is important that all students have learned lessons on commitment to service, the spirit of evangelisation and reaching out to people from MEP missionaries and professors from the university,” he said.
Bishop Vu, head of the Episcopal Commission for Youth, praised the MEP missionaries, especially Father Etcharren, for spending their lives serving the Church in Vietnam and treating Vietnamese like family in difficult times.
Father Etcharren said 82 MEP missionaries including himself were forced to leave southern Vietnam shortly after communist forces reunited the country in April 1975. He had worked with Catholics and people of other faiths in central provinces from 1959 to 1975 when fierce fighting took place between United States-backed southern Vietnamese troops and communist forces in these areas. 
The French priest, who speaks good Vietnamese with a Hue accent, said, “I love and see Vietnam as my fatherland.” The 86-year-old missionary managed to visit the Archdiocese of Hue in 1994 and has lived there since 2000.
During the meeting, participants celebrated a special Mass to mark the 60th anniversary of Father Etcharren’s ordination at Phu Cam Cathedral. About 500 people attended the ceremony.
Participants also visited Buddhist and Catholic sites, including the tomb of Father Leopold Cadiere, an MEP missionary who was an expert on Vietnamese culture and folklore. They also watched a cultural performance by sisters from the Lovers of the Holy Cross.
The MEP was formed in 1658 to bring Catholicism to Asia. Its founders were Fathers François Pallu and Lambert de la Motte, whom Pope Alexander VII appointed apostolic vicars for Vietnam’s first two vicariates, Dang Ngoai (Tonkin) and Dang Trong (Cochin China), in 1659.
Many members suffered severe religious persecution by Vietnamese authorities during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Two bishops and eight priests from the society were among 117 Vietnamese martyrs canonised by Pope St. John Paul II on 19 June 1988.

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