Since Vietnam commenced its national renewal process 20 years ago, religious activities have flourished in the country.
1. Diverse and effervescent religious activities
Diverse religious activities have been held throughout Vietnam, particularly in big cities and religious centers such as Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh, Tay Ninh, Can Tho and others. Religious institutions have made certain contributions to the gathering and mobilising of religious believers, who constitute an important force in the national unity block, in the national construction and development process.
Religious rites and festivals have been held on a larger scale in solemnity and safety. Many of them have become community activities, drawing in a large number of people who feel encouraged, secure and confident. They include Buddha’s birthday, Christmas day observed by Catholics and Protestants, Our Lady of La Vang Festival observed by Catholics, birth anniversaries of Caodaism and Hoa Hao Buddism, the Islamic month of Ramadan, and the Hung King Temple festival. In particular, Buddha’s birthday has officially been recognized by UNESCO as a major world religious festival.
Some lay festivals have also been highly appreciated by the public. They include the requiem for people who laid down their lives in the resistance war held by the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in 2005, the 27th pilgrimage to the Lady of La Vang Church included in the Marian Year held by the Bishop Council of the Vietnam Catholic Church and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Vietnam Protestant Society (northern region) held in 2005.
2. Religious organizations strengthened and consolidated
The ordainment, appointment and secondment of dignitaries have been done quickly and conveniently according to the laws and religious charters and rules. In 2003, Vietnam had about 20 million followers of different religions.
The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha has held five congresses and been consolidated from central to local levels. There are 9,038,064 Buddhists in Vietnam, or 12 percent of the country’s population, and 33,066 Buddhist monks and nuns, including 21,606 of the Mahayana sect, 9,415 of Therevada Khmer and 2,045 mendicant friars. Senior dignitaries have numbered 9,065 including 339 superior monks, 5,021 venerable (middle-ranking bonzes), 130 senior nuns and 3,575 nuns.
The Bishop Council of the Vietnam Catholic Church has held eight congresses. The number of Catholic followers has increased to 5,803,445 currently, or 7.2 percent of the national population. Three archdioceses, 25 dioceses, 2,027 parishes and 6,033 churches and chapels exist in the country. Currently 14,852 priests are operating in Vietnam, including a cardinal, three archbishops, 36 bishops, 2,410 priests and 10,947 nuns and monks living in cloisters.
The Vietnam Protestant Society (northern region) boasts 6,370 believers and 12 worshipping facilities with three pastors and nine missionaries. The Vietnam Protestant Society (southern region) has 558,000 followers and 279 worshipping facilities with 205 pastors and 430 pastors in office. The Protestant sub-societies in the Central Highlands provinces alone have 263,514 followers and 79 pastors and pastors in office, 65 missionaries and 380 volunteer missionaries. Currently 2,276,978 people in Vietnam follow Caodaism. They have 1,284 oratories and 7,104 priests. Hoa Hao Buddhism boasts 1,232,572 believers, 522 worshipping facilities and 534 monks and nuns. There are also 64,991 Muslims, 77 shrines and 699 priests.
Religions in Vietnam have obtained important achievements in the national renewal process. Their churches have been consolidated and stabilized. The number of religious priests and followers has increased in both quantity and quality. They have made a worthy contribution to consolidating the great national unity and religious unity by mobilising religious followers to national campaigns such as poverty reduction, returning favours to those who rendered services to the country, prevention of crimes and social evils and charity activities. Together with non-religious people, they have built a new life in the interest of the nation and the country.
3. Schools and institutes for religious dignitaries developed
The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha runs three Buddhist Institutes in Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City with a total enrolment of more than 1,000 trainee monks and nuns. Every year hundreds of students graduate from these institutes. In addition to this, there are four Buddhist colleges, which have more than 700 trainee monks and nuns enrolled, 30 Buddhist intermediate schools with more than 3,000 students, and 37 primary Buddhist schools in Soc Trang, Tra Vinh and Kien Giang provinces, which provide Buddhism education for 2,500 Khmer students. Efforts are being made to build the Vietnam Buddhist Institute in Hanoi’s outlying district of Soc Son, and a Therevada Khmer Buddhist Institute in Can Tho city. The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha has sent more than 120 Buddhist trainee monks and nuns for overseas study in India, Japan, Sri Lanka, China, France, Australia, the US and Taiwan. Up to now, 15 monks and nuns have achieved Ph.Ds in Buddhism, 20 have achieved M.A degrees, and 750 have got B.A. degrees. Currently, 738 monks and nuns are following college classes on Buddhism, and 2,600 others are attending basic courses on Buddhism.
The Catholic Church has six grand seminaries with 1,044 postulants. Enrolment has increased every year.
The Protestant Bible Theoretical Seminary in Ho Chi Minh City has provided education for 267 missionaries and pastors including those of indigenous ethnic minority origin in the Central Highlands’ provinces of Gia Lai, Dac Nong and Dac Lac provinces. The Seminary has held three courses for 85 learners and prepared to hold another four courses for about 150 learners. The Hoa Hao Buddhist Church has provided education on dogma and behaviour for 1,211 dignitaries and Caodaism has trained 1,285 dignitaries. The Representative Board of the Moslem Community in Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang province has held a Koran reading competition and a pilgrimage to the Mecca for some Muslims.
4. The printing of religious bibles, prayer books and other publications increases in both quantity and quality
In 2005 alone, the Religion Publishing House granted licences for the publication of 450 prayer books with more than a million copies and 60 other publications, up by 26 percent against 2004. A series of important Buddhist teaching books have been translated into Vietnamese, and printed and widely published. The printing of the Vietnamese Tripitaka has been completed. The Vietnamese Tripitaka comprises of 39 volumes and more than 200,000 pages. Vietnam has also published 313 Buddhist books of prayer, laws and theories. The Buddhist sutras and Buddhist texts collection of the Buddhist Sangha’s Cultural Commission has issued its 51st edition. Each edition had from 4,000 to 10,000 copies. With rich and diverse contents, the collection provides a foundation for studies of Buddhist monks, nuns, followers and readers inside and outside the country. The bi-monthly Enlightenment of the Ho Chi Minh City Buddhist Church has issued 1,640,000 copies and its contents and presentation have always been improved. It has been changed into a weekly and the weekly has had 80 editions. The Buddhism Research Magazine has issued nearly 100 editions.
The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha has held a number of seminars in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Can Tho cities on Buddhism and urgent issues in current Vietnamese society such as Buddhism and the national culture, Buddhist education, Buddhist morals, the integration of Buddhism into the national culture, Buddhism in the new era- Opportunities and challenges, the Therevada Khmer, and the translation of prayer-books into Vietnamese.
5. Vietnam’s religious communities promote international relations
Religious people in Vietnam have promoted international relations to accelerate information exchange, show mutual understanding, broaden communication for religious theories, show the brotherhood between belief-sharing and peace-loving people, highlight cooperation and friendship between the Vietnamese and people in other parts of the world in the interests of the country and the Church, contribute to the struggle against wrong arguments, slanders and false accusations against Vietnam, and take advantage of international help to train high-level monks and nuns and priests. The Churches in Vietnam have established friendly relations with those in Laos, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mongolia, India, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, France, Germany and Belgium. Vietnamese religious communities have welcomed hundreds of religions delegations that came to the country for friendly and working visits. Vietnam’s religious representatives have also paid friendly visits to countries in Southeast Asia and Europe and successfully participated in dozens of international workshops on religious issues, helping to improve the image of Vietnam’s churches in the world. From 1993 to the end of 2002, as many as 3,272 priests, monks and nuns went abroad for study, conventions, pilgrimages medical treatment, visiting relatives and tourism. They included 1,600 Catholic priests, 1,303 Buddhist monks and nuns, and 228 Muslim, 36 Protestant and 15 Cao Dai priests. In 2005 alone, 159 religious dignitaries and priests attended training courses, workshops, seminars and other activities in foreign countries. Vietnam has welcome three important religious delegations from abroad. The delegation led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who was accompanied by 200 monks and nuns and followers of 30 different nationalities visited Vietnam for more than three months. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom delegation led by US ambassador at large; John Handford visited Vietnam from March 4 to 9, 2005. Vietnam also received the delegation led by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, minister of Vatican’s Missionary Works, and helped the US Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) inquire into Protestant activities in the Central Highlands and the northern mountainous provinces.
These activities have helped the international communities further understand Vietnam’s policies on external affairs, economy and religious laws, and the US State Department to remove Vietnam from the “Countries of Particular Concern” list (CPC). The activities have also promoted information abroad to help overseas Vietnamese understand the religious situation and other activities in the country and turn their heart to national construction, and make the most of support from religious NGOs and international organizations.
6. Local authorities help improve and build new religious worshipping facilities
Recently, worshipping facilities in the country have been restored, embellished and built anew with financial contributions from the people and religious followers everywhere, and particularly with financial support from the central Government and local authorities.
In 2003, there was in Vietnam about 15,244 Buddhist temples and pagodas, 405 of which were recognised as a historical monuments at national level; 5,456 Catholic churches and chapels; 275 Protestant churches; 1,205 Caodaism oratories; 35 Hoa Hao Buddhist temples; 77 Muslim shrines and tens of thousands of others. In 2003 alone, 425 worshipping facilities were rebuilt or newly built, including 217 Buddhist temples, 177 Catholic churches, 8 Protestant churches and 23 Caodaism churches, and 294 others were repaired or upgraded. In 2004 alone, 165 worshipping facilities were repaired, improved or built anew. In 2005, there were 242 worshipping facilities built anew and 330 repaired and upgraded.
7. Charity and humanitarian activities of religious organizations, dignitaries and priests and religious followers acknowledged
There have been 2,083 charity organisations operating in the country including 1,076 Buddhist establishments. The Buddhist establishments include 126 Tue Tinh traditional medicinal clinics, particularly those in Ho Chi Minh City and Thua Thien-Hue, Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Ninh Thuan, Ca Mau and Vinh Long provinces, 115 other traditional medicine clinics, and 950 charity classes with an enrolment of nearly 20,000 students. The Catholic Church runs 1,007 charity establishments, including 93 clinics, 787 classes, pre-primary classes and kindergartens, and 127 other charity establishments.
Monks, nuns, priests and religious followers, in Buddha’s spirit of mercy and saving and rescuing others from misfortune and danger and the nation’s spirit of “the have help the have not”, have raised funds for flood victims and visited wounded and sick soldiers. They have warmly responded to public beneficial movements such as building schools and charity houses, assisting border and island guards, visiting and supporting patients in financial difficulties, leprosy and mental hospitals and old people’s homes, contributing to the life insurance fund, and giving grants to hard working students from poor families. They have contributed VND 5,400 million to building 12 primary and pre-primary schools and charity houses; VND2,250 million to feeding heroic Vietnamese mothers; VND2,430 million as grants for students; VND5,500 million to the bringing up and caring for orphans and the helpless elderly; VND5,850 million to building roads and sewers; VND52,554 million as relief for victims of natural disasters; and VND6,351 million to the poverty reduction fund.
The Vietnamese Party and State have inherited and promoted Ho Chi Minh’s Thought on the unity between Buddhists and Catholics and freedom of religion. In the national renewal process, they have clearly defined viewpoints and policies regarding religions and showed a renewed thinking on the issue: religions will exist permanently; religions and beliefs are spiritual needs of a part of the population; many points in religious morals are conformable to the building of a new society. The Party and State acknowledge cultural and spiritual values in religions, and encourage the people to maintain and promote religious and national unity, and actively contribute their strength and intelligence to the building of a new society. They support Vietnamese religious communities to strengthen cooperation with those in other countries for peace, development and social progress.
The outcomes mentioned earlier affirm that relevant sectors and levels in Vietnam have created favourable opportunities for the Vietnamese followers, dignitaries and organizations to hold religious activities according to the Party’s religious policies and relevant legal procedures. These practices have been warmly responded to by religious followers inside and outside the country and highly appreciated by many governments in the world as well as international organizations.
The outcomes of religious activities also vividly show the Vietnamese Party and State’s policies on religious freedom in the national renewal process.