Christianity was first introduced to Vietnam in 16th century and established a solid position in Vietnamese society since the 19th century. Roman Catholics and Protestants today constitute 7% and 1% of the country population accordingly; the newest census of Government shows that is 8% (7% Catholic and 1% Protestant). Christian communes still remain under control of state authorities. Foreign missionaries legally are not allowed to proselytize or perform religious activities without government approval. Undeclared missionaries from several countries are active in Vietnam.
Roman Catholicism first entered Vietnam through Catholic missionaries in 16th century and strengthened its influence when Vietnam was a French colony. France encouraged Catholicism.
The most active introducers of Western enlightenment were the Jesuits, who were, at that time, in the prime of their exploratory efforts. The Franciscans, Dominicans, and others, although prominent, never reached the influence of the Jesuits who were determined to plant the spiritual and cultural power of Roman Catholic Church in Southeast Asia. Having arrived there about 1627, they developed their activities in many fields. Their activities were helped by the printing of the first Bible in 1651, and the growing influence of several individuals, who were welcomed in certain powerful circles. Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes created in 17th century a written system of Vietnamese language largely using the Roman alphabet - it is used today and now called Quốc Ngữ (national language).
Catholicism came to widespread prominence when the French missionary priest and Bishop of Adran Pigneau de Behaine played a key role towards the end of the 18th century. He had come to southern Vietnam to proselytise. Pigneau then became the confidant of Nguyễn Ánh the last of the Nguyễn Lords, then engaged in civil war. Pigneau hoped that by helping in a Nguyễn Ánh victory, he would gain concessions for the Catholic Church in Vietnam.
Pigneau and other missionaries bought military supplies and enlisted European soldiers for Nguyễn Ánh and they took part in military operations.
Nguyen conquered Vietnam and became Emperor Gia Long. He tolerated the Catholic faith and permitted unimpeded missionary activities out of respect to his benefactors. The missionary activity was dominated by the Spanish in Tonkin and French in the central and southern regions. At the time of his death, there were six European bishops in Vietnam. The population of Christians was estimated at 300,000 in Tonkin and 60,000 in Cochinchina.
The peaceful coexistence of Catholicism alongside the classical Confucian system of Vietnam was not to last. Gia Long appointed Minh Mạng his successor for his deeply conservative Confucianism; his first son's lineage had converted to Catholicism and abandoned their Confucian heritage.
A power struggle then developed between Minh Mạng and pro-Catholic, pro-Western officials who wanted to maintain the power they had been given by Gia Long. Eventually, 2,000 Vietnamese Catholic troops fought under the command of Father Nguyễn Văn Tâm in an attempt to depose Minh Mạng and install a Catholic emperor.
The revolt was put down, and restrictions were placed on Catholicism. Persistent rebellions occurred throughout the Nguyễn Dynasty, many led by Catholic priests intent on installing a Christian monarch. During the French colonial campaign against Vietnam from 1858 to 1883, many Catholics joined with the French in helping to establish colonialism by fighting against the Vietnamese government. Once colonial rule was established the Catholics were rewarded with preferential treatment in government posts, education, and the church was given vast tracts of royal land that had been seized.
After the end of the French rule and Vietnam division in mid-1950s, Catholicism declined in the North, where the communists regarded it as a reactionary force opposed to national liberation and social progress. In the South, by contrast, Catholicism was expanded under the presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem, who promoted it as an important bulwark against North Vietnam. Diem, whose brother was Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc gave extra rights to the Catholic Church, dedicated the nation to
the Virgin Maryand preferentially promoted Catholic military officers and public servants while restricting Buddhism and allowing Catholic paramilitaries to demolish temples and pagodas. In 1955 approximately 600,000 Catholics remained in the North after an estimated 650,000 had fled to the South in
Operation Passage to Freedom.
In 1975 the Communist authorities, which united the country by military force and after the US troops withdrawal, claimed that the religious activities of Roman Catholics were stabilized and that there was no religious persecution. Meanwhile, the Government acted to isolate and to neutralize hard-core opposition within local Catholics to party policy and to persuade less strongly opposed factions to join a party-controlled "renovation and reconciliation" movement. A significant number of Vietnamese Roman Catholics, however, remained opposed to communist authority.
In 1988 all Vietnamese Catholics, who died for their faith from 1533 to present time, were canonized by Pope John Paul II as
Protestantism was introduced in 1911 at Da Nang by the Canadian missionary Robert A. Jaffray. As part of the Christian Missionary Alliance, over 100 missionaries were sent to Vietnam, assisting the faith's growth in the country.
By 1967 information, Protestant communities were represented mainly within South Vietnam. Those communities included the French Reformed Church, Anglican–Episcopalian, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Baptists, Church of Christ, Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, and Seventh-day Adventists. Other Protestant associations were also represented in some social services and welfare agencies.
Protestant communes in the North decreased in membership to about 1,200 by the end of the Vietnam War. Several Protestant church properties were confiscated during the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975.
Protestants in the early 1980s, mostly located in the Montagnard communities in southern Vietnam's central highlands.
By May, 2006, over 300 Montagnard people remained in Vietnamese prisons for their faith. A young Hroi (ethnic minority) man who refused to reject his Christian faith reportedly died from injuries received under official interrogation in April 2007. By the 2008 estimates of Release International, many Christians from Vietnam's tribal highlands are still regarded as enemies and targeted as "agents of America". They are reportedly beaten, tortured and starved behind bars, despite the official claims and guarantees for freedom of religion.
The modern Vietnamese alphabet was created in the 17th century by Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, leading to the first printing of the Bible in Vietnamese by the Jesuits in 1651. The continued publication of Bibles in the indigenous language greatly aided in the Society of Jesus in evangelization. Protestant missionaries brought other translations in the 19th century.
Other Bible translations were made by Protestants in 1926 and 1991.
Orthodoxy in Vietnam is presented by a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in Vung Tau, where there are many Russian-speaking employees of the Russian-Vietnamese joint venture "
The parish is named after
Our Lady of Kazanicon and was opened in 2002 with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been given in Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra.
Chairman of Russian Orthodox Church's Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Kirill (since 2009 Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus) was the first Russian Orthodox hierarch, who visited Vietnam in November 2001. Headed by Kirill delegation had meetings with Russian speaking community and Vietnamese officials, held church services in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau (about 600 people were present).
Since that time representatives of the foreign relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church from time to time come to Vung Tau to conduct the
Orthodox divine service.
In 2007, the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church organized Easter divine services in Vung Tau, General Consulate of Russia in Ho Chi Minh City and the Russian Center of science and culture in Hanoi.
In April, 2010, the delegation of the foreign relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church organized and conducted regular Easter services in Our Lady of Kazan icon parish in Vungtau.
Vietnam is also mentioned as territory under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Hong Kong & Southeast Asia Nikitas (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), though there is no information on its organized activities there.
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