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Catholic Voice
  April 7, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column
Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, center in black clerics, with priests of the Diocese of Hai Phong and Hai Phong Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien, in blue shirt, outside Nam Am Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Courtesy photo

Good News of Resurrection found in all corners of globe

Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

Dear Friends in Christ,

I'm writing this week from Vietnam, where I am making a week-long visit to the Diocese of Hai Phong — which is about a three-hour drive west of Hanoi. I am here to thank Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien, who generously sent the Diocese of Oakland three seminarians, whom we sponsored at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park.

One of these young men was ordained last May, Father Thi Van Hoang, who is now serving at St. Joseph's Basilica in Alameda. Yesterday the parents of these three young men came to meet me here at the bishop's house in Hai Phong. They each had travelled on motorbikes for some hours to get here. It was a joy for me to thank them for "giving their sons to the Church" and to our diocese. These parents are making quite a sacrifice, as they have not seen their sons in seven years.

I am incredibly impressed by how strong and thriving the Catholic Faith is in this Communist country. On Sunday night, the bishop invited me to preach in his cathedral (with an interpreter). One thousand worshipers filled the church, and another 1,000 stood outside in the square, joining as the Mass was projected on the side of the belltower. The people were absolutely enthusiastic in their worship.

Yesterday (March 31) I visited the minor seminary, where 27 young men, all university graduates, are beginning their studies for the priesthood. (I noticed that during our Mass, government propaganda was constantly being blared through loudspeakers throughout the whole neighborhood.)

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These men are waiting for places to open up in the Major Seminary in Hanoi, where currently 400 men are studying for eight dioceses. (Compare that with our St. Patrick's, where 85 men are studying for 12 dioceses.)

The Sisters of the Holy Cross, who staff the Hai Phong diocesan chancery and cathedral, have five postulants — just from this parish alone. We are fortunate to have in Oakland a branch of these Sisters, living in Santa Maria convent in Orinda.

Bishop Joseph has been sharing his challenges with the Church/government situation over here, not all of which I can relate.

The government seized the original Minor Seminary. The Diocese of Oakland has helped him build a new one.

The government seized the Home for Retired Priests. The Diocese of Oakland is helping him build a new one. The groundbreaking is in fact tomorrow! (April 2).

I am proud of your generosity, my brothers and sisters in Oakland. Even with our own financial challenges, God is so good to us, we always have something to share.

Today (April 1) I will be meeting with all the priests of the diocese of Hai Phong, who are gathering for their monthly Day of Recollection at the bishop's house. Almost every priest has a relative who has been imprisoned, killed or exiled for the Faith in the political turmoil here in the last decades.

I will be thinking of these families when, at our Easter Masses, after renewing our baptismal promises, the priest proclaims: "This is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus Our Lord!"

This is the centerpiece of our Faith: That the Son of God became a human being; that he gave his life for us on the cross, and then rose from the dead. This offer — dare I say this "guarantee" — of eternal life, extended to us through Christian baptism, and kept pure through frequent confession, is worth persecution, exile and worse. As St. Paul says: Nothing can surpass knowing Jesus Christ Our Lord (Phil. 3:8).

In the years ahead I look forward to visiting other home countries of the many nations represented in our diocesan parishes. It is so exhilarating to see how the good news of Jesus' resurrection has spread from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth. How fortunate we are to be members of this, His Church.

Happy Easter!

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