VATICAN INSIDER AND THE VATICAN’S COMMUNICATIONS REFORMATION – LATE VIETNAMESE ARCHBISHOP WAS A “PRIEST OF THE PERIPHERIES”

VATICAN INSIDER AND THE VATICAN’S COMMUNICATIONS REFORMATION

My guest this week on Vatican Insider is Chris Altieri, a former colleague at Vatican Radio. For years, you, my listeners, probably read Chris’ stories on the webpages of English Vatican Radio and heard his voice as he did wonderful commentaries for papal Masses and other events.

This weekend, in the first of two parts, we look at the reform of Vatican communications – what has happened so far, the low morale in the Vatican, what reform means for Vatican personnel in the communications area and what it means for people around the world who listen to a greatly changed Vatican radio – except we are not supposed to use that name anymore!

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

LATE VIETNAMESE ARCHBISHOP WAS A “PRIEST OF THE PERIPHERIES”

When I learned Wednesday morning of the sudden and tragic death in Rome a day earlier of the archbishop of HoChiMinh Ville (Saigon), Vietnam. I immediately thought of my very good friend, Msgr. Cuong Pham, who works in the Roman Curia at the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. I thought of Cuong because he is the first Vietnamese priest I ever knew and I was sure he knew all of Vietnam’s bishops.

Cuong was born in Vietnam but he is now a U.S. citizen. When he was studying in Rome and living at the Casa Santa Maria, part of the North American College, we met and became fast friends. His life story was so incredibly fascinating that I did a two- part interview with him for Vatican Insider – from the shores in Vietnam with the “boat people” to the shores of the United States to the doors of the Vatican! If his story, his family’s story, was made into a movie, it would be at the top of the charts for weeks!

I was blessed a few years ago to meet his parents and one of his brothers when they were in Rome and offered the hospitality of my home to meet these people who had become heroes to me.

When I was in Vietnam a few years ago, visiting both DaNang and Saigon, Cuong’s relatives and priest friends made my trip exceptional, unbelievably memorable. I’ll never forget our meals together, their help, their stories, their lives, especially the young men studying for the priesthood or those who had been recently ordained.

Something you should know, by the way: Vietnam is second only to the Philippines for the percentage of Catholics in the country. There is a very large Vietnamese presence in Rome including many priests, a number of seminarians and untold numbers of lay faithful.

In any case, after learning of Archbishop Paul Bùi Văn Đọc’s death, I sent Cuong an email to express my condolences to him and, through him, to all the bishops of Vietnam, including Cardinal Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon, archbishop of Hanoi, created a cardinal in 2015 by Pope Francis, the sixth cardinal ever from Vietnam. I briefly met the cardinal at the courtesy visits the afternoon of the consistory in which he became a cardinal and told him I had recently been to his country, but not to Hanoi.

The Vietnamese bishops have been in Rome this week on the mandatory “ad limina apostolorum” (to the threshold of the Apostles) visit all bishops must pay to Rome – usually every five years. During these visits, they meet with the Pope and visit various offices of the Roman Curia.

Here is a video of their meeting with Pope Francis on Monday. You will see the cardinal to the right of the papal chair and then you see the first person to greet Pope Francis and kiss his ring – he announces him name, saying he is the archbishop of Hochiminh Ville: https://www.romereports.com/en/2018/03/05/pope-francis-meets-with-bishops-from-vietnam/

This video was all the more poignant for me after a long phone conversation last night with Fr. Cuong.

I learned that, because he is one of two Vietnamese priests in the Curia, he was put in charge of arranging the entire ad limina visit for the Vietnamese bishops. Obviously he knows Vietnamese, English and Italian and is very familiar with the Vatican, its offices and Vatican City, as he is with the city of Rome. All of that served him well so he could serve the bishops well.

Cuong arranged for lodgings, transport to the Vatican and basilicas of Rome, and coordinated all the meetings with the Holy Father and various officials of the Roman Curia. Working at his own job in the legislative texts council in the meantime!

Because the late archbishop’s name was Paul, Fr. Cuong thought it would be a lovely experience for the Vietnamese prelates to celebrate Mass at the papal basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and arranged for that to happen Tuesday morning.

It was during Mass, Cuong said, that everyone could see something was obviously very wrong with the archbishop, although he said he could finish Mass. A reception had been planned after Mass with the presence of hundreds of Vietnamese Catholics.

The vans that had brought the prelates to Mass were not parked close to the basilica so the archbishop was brought in a private car to San Camillo hospital, noted for its cardiac unit, where he died after three attempts to revive him when his heart stopped.

Fr. Cuong was at his side when he died. As we spoke last night, we both agreed how extraordinarily beautiful it has to be for a priest to die right after celebrating the Eucharist – after turning the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ!

Cuong told me he had eaten dinner with Archbishop Văn Đọc on Monday night and they were celebrating all the beautiful moments up to that point with the Holy Father and others in the Vatican. The archbishop was a contented person.

The archbishop is still at San Camillo hospital as I write, and Cuong is in the throes of dealing with officials at the Vietnamese embassy and in Italy to see to his transfer back to Vietnam. Hochiminh Ville diocese has two auxiliaries and, according to Canon Law, it would be the first appointed of the two to accompany the late archbishop back to Vietnam.

Fr. Cuong wanted me to know above all what an extremely wonderful priest and human being Archbishop Văn Đọc was.

“He was generous to a fault,” said Cuong. “He was a man of great empathy, of compassion, of mercy – a priest ‘of the peripheries’ as Pope Francis likes to say. The ‘least of these’ are the people he gravitated to, in particular orphans and those with disabilities. He was unique in so many ways and will be sorely missed. God rest his beautiful soul.”

Pope Francis invited Vietnam’s bishops to Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence on Wednesday and shared some special time with them.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State, will celebrate a memorial Mass in the Canon’s Chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica tomorrow, Saturday, March 10. A large number of Vietnamese faithful are expected to attend and there will probably be an overflow crowd as this lovely chapel (right across from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the basilica) cannot accommodate hundreds.

One Vietnamese bishop whom I do know but have not yet seen in Rome is Bishop Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri, now of Lạng Sơn et Cao Bằng, but he was the bishop of DaNang when we met. He was a wonderful guide, friend and host for a number of meals in his residence, just yards from the DaNang cathedral.

I have followed the cause for canonization of Fr. Vincent Capodanno for a number of years and have participated in events in Italy and in Vietnam where he died on a battlefield near DaNang on September 4, 1967, trying to minister to “his men” when he was a chaplain in the Navy. A celebration in DaNang was the reason for my first ever Vietnam trip.

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