Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung dies, funeral held in Hanoi

Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung, archbishop emeritus of Hanoi, passed away Feb. 22, at the age of 89. His funeral in Hanoi on Feb. 26 was attended by over 30,000, including 20 bishops and 500 priests, and many ethnic minority highlanders from his former diocese of Bac Ninh. The funeral was broadcast by the church on closed circuit television. Pope Benedict expressed his sadness and asked God to welcome this pastor "who, through difficult circumstances, was able to serve the Church with great courage and generous loyalty to the See of Peter, tirelessly dedicating himself to the announcement of the Gospel."

Cardinal Tung's life as a priest followed the trials and tribulations of war and repression under a regime which over the decades has been frequently hostile and controlling in its policies toward the Catholic Church and other religions. He was ordained as a priest in 1949 at the age of 29, and became bishop of Bac Ninh diocese in 1963, a post he held for the next 31 years. Of this period, Catholic News Agency notes:

"During more than 25 of the years he served as bishop of Bac Ninh, Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung was placed under house arrest and prevented from visiting the 100 different parishes under his care. Determined to spread the Gospel despite his circumstances, he dedicated himself to telling the story of the Jesus’ life and ministry, Church teachings, the 10 Commandments and explaining the Sacraments in a type of poem called 'luc bat.' The six to eight word stanzas enabled the faithful to easily learn the faith.

"Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung also created a system for the faithful to maintain parish life in his absence and founded a school to train children as catechists. The school already has 200 graduates who have returned to all parts of Vietnam."

During this period, due in part to the exodus of many priests in 1954, but more so to the unwillingness of the North Vietnam government to approve ordinations of priests, the number of priests in Bac Ninh diocese numbered only three, to serve over 100 parishes. To help remedy this situation, he formed lay councils to carry on the religious life of the parishes.

Cardinal Tung was appointed apostolic administrator of Hanoi in 1990, after the death that year of Hanoi Cardinal Joseph Trinh Van Can. He became archbishop of Hanoi in 1994 and made a Cardinal the same year. He retired at the age of 85 in 2005. One of his last public acts was to have a protest statement read out Hanoi churches against the seizure by city authorities of buildings that once belonged to the old Vatican nunciature.

Sources: Asiannews.It, Feb. 28, Feb. 23; Spero forum Feb. 27; Straits Times Feb. 26; Associated Press, Feb. 24; Catholic Culture Feb. 26; Catholic News Agency Feb. 23; Vietcatholicnet Feb. 22; Feb. 24 [text of Pope's condolence letter].


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