Christianity in Vietnam

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Christianity was first introduced to Vietnam [1] in the 16th century and established a position in Vietnamese society since the 19th century. Roman Catholics and Protestants today constitute 7% and 1% of the country’s population respectively; however, the exact number might be higher, such as 10% Catholic population and 5% Protestant population in Vietnam.[2] Christian foreign missionaries are not allowed to proselytize or perform religious activities without government approval.[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 faith 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 with 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 Vietnamese Martyrs.[28]


Protestantism was introduced in 1911 at Da Nang by 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, a number of Protestant communities were represented, mainly within South Vietnam. These 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 communities 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.

In the early 1980s, Protestants were 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 has 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 are 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]

At least 50% of the current Protestant population are tribal people.[1] The Hmong and H're tribal groups suffer from particular persecution. In 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 while 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 seen 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]

Seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries Girolamo Maiorica and Alexandre de Rhodes compiled the first catechisms and other Catholic texts in Vietnamese, in 1623 and 1651, respectively. However, per the usual policy of the Jesuit missions, the Bible was not translated. De Rhodes' work included an early Vietnamese alphabet that was used for later Christian texts. Some portions of the Bible 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.

In 2017 Jehovah's Witnesses released the entire New World Translation of the Bible in Vietnamese, including scholarly footnotes, cross-references, appendices, maps and diagrams. This Bible translation was also made available to read online on their website and via their JW Library app.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity[edit]

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]


Works cited

  • Hudson Institute. "Vietnam Steps up Persecution of Hmong Christians". Center for Religious Freedom. 2005.
  • Montagnard Foundation press release, 2006. Religious Persecution Continues In Vietnam As Degar Christians Are Tortured For Their Faith
  • 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 [1]
  • Christian persecution in Vietnam. Report by CSW [2]

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