Phan Thiết - Members of the Phan Thiết Diocese are involved in a number of initiatives this Lent, including proclaiming the Word of God, promoting charitable works for the poor and helping out in a number of projects in their parish. All this is evidence of the role lay people play in the life of the Church in Vietnam.
John Paul II highlighted their role several times when, referring to the guiding principles of the Second Vatican Council, noted that "lay people play a fundamental role in the life and mission of the Church."
For Catholic leaders in Vietnam, the laity are tasked "with passing on the moral values of the family" and "helping others with zeal and enthusiasm".
This task is crucial in a society that is on a slippery slope of materialism and capitalism based on the quest for money and wealth.
The parish of Võ Đắt, Phan Thiết Diocese in the southeastern province of Bình Thuận, organised a number of seminars open to neighbouring parishes on the topic of 'Meeting together for announcement of Good News'.
This is the first initiative of its kind in the diocese; according to organisers, it has had "memorable results". About 235 parishioners, 27 religious and a few parish priests took part in the seminars.
Fr Jean Baptiste Hoàng Văn Khanh, vicar general of the diocese, was one of the participants. "We engage in missionary action by going to poor communities, talking with neighbours, working and helping in companies, enterprises or offices," he said.
Equally, Benedict XVI's Lent message was the driving principle that is guiding the journey of 40 catechumens who will be baptised this Easter, a number that hopefully might increase even further.
Mgr Joseph Vũ Duy Thống, bishop of Phan Thiết, said he was close to the poorer and more remote communities of his diocese, including those on Phú Quí Islands Parish, composed of a group of ten isles.
Some 27,000 people live on the islands, including about 160 Catholics. For 20 years, the latter did not have a church to worship. Last September, they opened their first place of worship, built thanks to the efforts of the faithful and clergy of the diocese.
Speaking to AsiaNews, a local Catholic said, "Most people in the area are well-off. About 160 are Catholic and very poor, mostly migrants trying to make a living."
"Each year, the islands are hit by strong winds, high waves and typhoons and people suffer," Br Triết said. "For this reason, the presence of the church is important in terms of pastoral activities and spiritual support."
According to the latest figures, Catholics number 7 million in a country of 86 million.