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Nearly 100, but still spreading the faith in Vietnam reporter, Yen Bai Vietnam - Mon, Dec 18th 2017

Nearly 100, but still spreading the faith in Vietnam

From ethnic groups to Party officials, 94-year-old Joseph Tran Minh Nhu has been evangelizing in remote areas for decades

Nearly 100, but still spreading the faith in Vietnam

Joseph Tran Minh Quang talks with non-Catholics at a meeting in Vinh Quang Church on Oct. 22. ( photo)

For 94-year-old Joseph Tran Minh Nhu helping ethnic villagers in remote mountainous areas of northwest Vietnam learn about Catholicism is one of the most satisfying things in his life.

With his gentle sense humor, Nhu regularly visits villages in Yen Bai province providing villagers with Catholic material and invitations to attend Mass.

"I have worked among ethnic people in the area over 50 years," said Nhu who speaks both Thai and Muong ethnic languages. "I could not stop doing this even though I have to borrow money to pay for my expenses and their travel fees," he said.

Recently, Nhu spent several days visiting and encouraging 14 non-Catholic Kinh, Muong and Thai ethnic people to attend a special Mass to mark World Mission Day at Vinh Quang Church in Van Chan district.

They were aged between 40-75 and many of them lived 50 kilometers from the church.

During the Oct. 22 ceremony — which was attended by about 1,000 Catholics — the visiting non-Catholics were introduced to Catholicism and given gifts. Both Catholics and non-Catholics shared their views on faith and filial duties, expressed their concerns about social problems, and established relationships.

Nhu said he has invited some Thai and Muong ethnic people to attend Mass at the church to pray for their dead relatives in November. He is planning to invite non-Catholics to visit the church during Christmas.

"I try to build good relationships with them, visit and give them food and medicine when they are in need, and respect their beliefs," Nhu said. "It is good to open their hearts to embrace the church."

The father of five said he has helped baptize some 100 Muong and Thai ethnic villagers who live in areas without resident priests. "I regularly visit and encourage them to attend Masses at churches," he said.

Thai ethnic women in traditional clothes dance at a church gathering in Van Chan District on Feb. 23. ( photo)

Orphan adopted by Catholic family

Nhu, who moved to Vinh Quang parish from Thai Binh Province in 1930, was an orphan adopted by a local Catholic family.

The parish, established by French missionaries in 1909, has 3,400 Catholics including 900 Hmong, Muong, Tay and Thai ethnic people.

No resident priest has served the parish since 2014.

"I am inspired to work with ethnic people by four French missionaries who served local ethnic minority groups from 1905-1952," Nhu said. They built facilities, learned ethnic languages and cultures, walked or rode horses to give pastoral care local people, he said. They likewise composed prayers in ethnic languages, he said, adding that they also made dictionaries for the people.

Three of the French missionaries died in the area while the fourth one was expelled by the communists in 1952.

"I want to continue their evangelization efforts here as a way to express my deep gratitude to them," said Nhu, who started to work with local ethnic people in 1963 after the last Vietnamese priest in the area Father Peter Du Kim Khoa was imprisoned by the communists during religious persecution.

In many villages neighboring the parish, the authorities prevent outside priests from visiting the villagers and ban them from embracing Catholicism. The authorities also threaten to withdraw land and basic supplies from anyone practicing Catholicism.

"Many youths from Tu Le Commune dare not go to church and have to bury rosaries they are given because they fear dire threats against them," said Nhu.

Nhu said he has overcome many of these challenges by making friends with village officials. "I visit a villager as a friend when they have funerals and weddings, and give them hundreds of digital audio players so they can listen to homilies on divine mercy," he said.

During his visit, Nhu provides villagers with milk, sugar and herbal medicine to those suffering from diseases. "I tell jokes to relax them so that they can find joy in their life," he said.

Many ethnic people respect Nhu for his humane and caring acts. 

"I really admire him for his goodwill visits and for inviting us to attend a recent service at the church," said Dinh Thi Buom a non-Catholic from a Muong ethnic village.

Buom, 68, said through Nhu she became interested in Catholicism which teaches people how to live a good life, respect others, bring up children well and work for the common good.

As part of his evangelization efforts, Nhu invited a 75-year-old communist member and former school teacher to attend a Mass last month. Nhu tries to introduce Christian values to retired officials and Party members at villages.

"I believe when people get old they look for spiritual values. Catholicism can meet their spiritual needs," he said.

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