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Lay People in the Asian Church

A Critical Study of the Theology of the Laity in the Documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences with Special Reference to John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation «Ecclesia in Asia» and the Pastoral Letters of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conf

Peter Nguyen Van Hai

This book investigates the role of the laity in the Asian Church. Lay people have three responsibilities: proclaiming the Gospel, be a witness of life, and the triple dialogue with the cultures, the religions, and the poor. Focusing on the triple dialogue, the bishops of Asia have offered fresh ideas to address three global trends in society: the revolution in communications technologies which blurs the cultures; the conflicts between followers of different religions; and the advance of globalisation which leaves in its aftermath the poverty of the masses.
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Chapter 9 The Mission of Lay People in the Pastoral Letters of the Vietnamese Bishops with Reference to the Teachings of John Paul II and the Bishops of Asia


Remembering Sören Kierkegaard’s famous observation that we live our lives looking forward but understand them looking backward, we can hardly find a better way to appreciate the theology of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference (VEC) than to review its pastoral letters issued over the past six decades.1 Indeed, on 24 April 1980, nearly five years after a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the iron gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, the seat of the former South Vietnamese Government, the Catholic bishops of both North and South Vietnam were permitted to hold their first joint plenary meeting in Hanoi, the capital of a unified Vietnam under the communist control. For Vietnamese Catholics this date marked the end of the division of their church into two ecclesial communities that had begun concomitantly with the political partition of the country into two states, the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North and the non-communist State of Vietnam in the South, and signalled the beginning of a new period of reflection and engagement, one that endeavoured to interpret the new signs of the times in light of the Gospel.

At the conclusion of this historic gathering on 1 May 1980 the bishops published the statutes of the VEC,2 and promulgated their first pastoral letter to the ← 195 | 196 → people of God in the whole country.3 This letter expresses the common destiny that the church shares with the entire nation. It demands new ways of thinking and acting,...

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