Christianity in Vietnam

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Christianity was first introduced to Vietnam [1] in the 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’s population accordingly; the newest government census shows that is 8% (7% Catholic and 1% Protestant).[2] Christian[3] Foreign missionaries illegally, without government approval, are not allowed to proselytize or perform religious activities.[3] Undeclared missionaries from several countries are active in Vietnam.[citation needed]

Roman Catholics[edit]

Roman Catholicism first entered Vietnam through Catholic missionaries in the 16th century and strengthened its influence when Vietnam was a French colony. France, through discriminatory methods, incentivized conversion to Catholicism.[4]

The most active idealogues 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 further the interests of the 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 an alphabet for the Vietnamese language in the 17th century from the Latin script. Today, it is the official writing system referred to as Quốc Ngữ (or, "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.[5][6][7][8][9][10] Pigneau would ingratiate himself to and eventually become confidant to Nguyễn Ánh, the last of the Nguyễn Lords, then engaged in a civil war.[5][11] Pigneau hoped that by "helping" in a Nguyễn Ánh victory, he would gain concessions for the Catholic Church in Vietnam.[12]

Pigneau and other missionaries bought military supplies and enlisted European soldiers for Nguyễn Ánh and they took part in military operations.[13][14][15][16][17][18][18][19]

Nguyen conquered Vietnam and became Emperor Gia Long. He tolerated the Catholic faith and permitted unimpeded missionary activities out of respect to his foreign benefactors.[20] The missionary activity was dominated by the Spanish in Tonkin and French in the central and southern regions.[21] At the time of his death, there were six European bishops in Vietnam.[21] The population of Christians was estimated at 300,000 in Tonkin and 60,000 in Cochinchina.[22]

This protracted success at establishing the dominance of Catholicism over the classical Confucian system of Vietnam was not to continue unimpeded, however.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25][26][26][26] 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".[27]

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 victorious overthrow of French rule and Vietnam's temporary division in the mid-1950s, Catholicism declined in the North, where the Communists categorized it as a reactionary force opposed to both national liberation as well as social progress. In the South, by contrast, Catholicism was expanded under the presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem, who aggressively promoted it, through coercion and violence, 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 Mary", and preferentially promoted Catholic military officers and public servants while severely restricting the practice of Buddhism and allowing Catholic paramilitaries to demolish sacred Buddhist 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 so-called "Vietnamese Martyrs".[28]


Protestantism was introduced in 1911 at Da Nang by the Canadian missionary Robert A. Jaffray. As part of the Christian and 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, AnglicanEpiscopalian, 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. In 1967 there were 150,000 Protestant adherents in South Vietnam, representing about 1% of the total population.[29]

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.[30]

Present estimates of the number of Protestants range from the official government figure of 500,000 to claims by churches of 1,600,000 or more. The two officially recognized Protestant churches are the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV), recognized in 2001, and the smaller Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (ECVN), recognized since 1963. The SECV had affiliated churches in the southern provinces of the country. By some estimates, the growth of Protestant believers in Vietnam has been as much as 600 percent over the past ten years. Some of the new converts belong to unregistered evangelical house churches. Based on believers' estimates, two-thirds of Protestants were members of ethnic minorities, including Hmong, Dzao, Thai, and other minority groups in the Northwest Highlands, and members of ethnic minority groups of the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Bahnar, and Koho, among others).[31]

Nowadays at least 50% of the Protestant population are tribal people.[1] Particularly Hmong and H're tribals suffer from persecution of Christians. By May, 2006, over 300 Montagnard people remained in Vietnamese prisons for their faith.[32] 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.[33]

Mennonite and Baptist movements were officially recognized by Hanoi in October, 2007, which was estimated as some improvement of religious freedom in the country.[34] Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung, provisional president of the Vietnam Mennonite Church, taking part in the official ceremony of the above authorisation, quoted his Church's motto: "Living the Gospel, worshipping God, and serving the nation." .[34]

Bible translations into Vietnamese[edit]

The modern Vietnamese alphabet was created in the 17th century by Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, leading to the first printing of Catholic texts in Vietnamese by the Jesuits in 1651, but not the Bible, as per the usual policy of the Jesuit missions. Some portions may have been translated and printed in Thailand in 1872.

Jean Bonet, author of a Dictionnaire Annamite-français, translated Gospel of Luke from French to Vietnamese in 1890. The first translation from Latin was that of Albert Schlicklin (1916), and the first from Greek that of William Cadman (New Testament 1923, Old Testament 1934).[35] The Schilicklin and Cadman Bibles remain the basis of the standard Catholic and Protestant versions today.

The organized work of United Bible Societies in Vietnam began in 1890. In 1966 the Vietnamese Bible Society was established. The Bible societies distributed 53,170 Bible examples and 120,170 New Testament examples in Vietnamese within the country in 2005.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity[edit]

Main article: Orthodoxy in Vietnam

Orthodoxy in Vietnam is presented by a parish of Russian Orthodox Church in Vungtau, where there are many Russian-speaking employees of the Russian-Vietnamese Joint Venture "Vietsovpetro".

The parish named after Our Lady of Kazan icon was opened in 2002 with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been given in Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra.

The representatives of foreign relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church from time to time come to Vungtau for conducting Orthodox divine service.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Open Doors International : Vietnam
  2. ^ Vietnam Affirms Consistent Policy on Religion: White Paper
  3. ^ a b US State Department Country Report 2006 on Vietnam
  4. ^ Religion in Vietnam#Roman Catholicism
  5. ^ a b Hall, p. 423.
  6. ^ Cady, p. 282.
  7. ^ Buttinger, p. 266.
  8. ^ Mantienne, p. 520.
  9. ^ McLeod, p. 7.
  10. ^ Karnow, p. 75.
  11. ^ Buttinger, p. 234.
  12. ^ McLeod, p. 9.
  13. ^ McLeod, p. 10.
  14. ^ Cady, p. 284.
  15. ^ Hall, p. 431.
  16. ^ Mantienne, p.135
  17. ^ Karnow, p. 77.
  18. ^ a b Buttinger, p. 267.
  19. ^ Karnow, p. 78.
  20. ^ Buttinger, pp. 241, 311.
  21. ^ a b Cady, p. 408.
  22. ^ Cady, p. 409.
  23. ^ Buttinger, p. 268.
  24. ^ Buttinger, p. 269.
  25. ^ Choi, pp. 56–57
  26. ^ a b c McLeod, p. 24.
  27. ^ McLeod, p.31
  28. ^ Catholic Forum
  29. ^ Protestantism in South Vietnam, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division, 1967
  30. ^ Religion in Vietnam#Protestantism
  31. ^ Vietnam
  32. ^ Montagnard Foundation
  33. ^ Christian Today Magazine
  34. ^ a b Hanoi officially recognises Baptists and Mennonites, AsiaNews
  35. ^ History of the Vietnamese Bible
  36. ^ Russian Orthodox Portal, in Russian
  • Hudson Institute. "Vietnam Steps up Persecution of Hmong Christians". Center for Religious Freedom. 2005. [1]
  • Christianity with an Asian Face: Asian-American Theology in the Making. By Peter C. Phan. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003. xvii + 253 pp.
  • Report on Vietnam by International Christian Concern [3]
  • Christian persecution in Vietnam. Report by CSW [4]

External links[edit]