Good Morning, Vietnam!

“Jesus Christ brought us freedom from sin; America brought us freedom to sin.”

― Archbishop Emeritus Jean-Baptiste Cardinal Pham Minh Mân of Saigon.

Ligaya Acosta and I stepped out of Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport and into the blazing heat of Vietnam. We had just traveled from Bangkok, where we conducted a one-day pro-life conference entitled “Silent Screams,” co-hosted by Couples for Christ-Foundation for Family and Life and Human Life International.

Doctor Ligaya Acosta presenting the Gospel of Life near Saigon.

Doctor Ligaya Acosta presenting the Gospel of Life near Saigon

Dr. Ligaya is HLI’s Regional Coordinator for Asia and Oceania, and this pro-life missionary journey would not have been possible without her efforts. She had visited Vietnam two years previously, trusting totally in Our Lady. She knew no one in the country, but expertly laid the foundation for future visits as she has in so many other Asian nations.

The pro-life movement is sorely needed in Vietnam. The nation’s demographic situation can legitimately be called desperate. Its two-child policy has been in force for nearly half a century, and the country has the highest abortion rate on Earth. Despite a population that is less than one-third that of the United States, it suffers nearly twice as many abortions, meaning its abortion rate is six times higher than that of the USA. More than half of all pregnancies are aborted, some 1.4 million a year. Vietnam has suffered 40 million abortions since 1975, or 30 percent of its entire current population.

As recently as 1970, the average Vietnamese woman had 7.4 children. Vietnam’s total fertility rate is currently a catastrophically low 1.5 children per woman, and by 2040 will drop under one child per woman, a level no nation has ever recovered from. This is an astounding 80% decrease in fertility since 1970, the third highest decline on Earth, behind only Iran and South Korea.

The current population of Vietnam is about 91 million. The United Nations projects that it will peak at 95 million in 2031 and then will decline to less than 90 million by 2050. Until 2100, the population will plunge more and more rapidly until there are only 44 million Vietnamese remaining, less than half the current number.

These alarming statistics have compelled the Vietnamese government to not only recently discard its two-child program, but to install measures to cut down on the number of abortions. Unfortunately, due to the influence of the population control cartel, this program includes more widespread contraceptive use, which has not reduced abortions in any other nation on Earth.

There are currently 112 boys born for every 100 girls in Vietnam. By 2030, about 3 million young Vietnamese men will be unable to find wives, giving rise to the same problems suffered by China ― including increased levels of `hooliganism,’ prostitution and sexual slavery. The Parliament of Vietnam banned both sex-selection diagnosis and sex-selection abortion in attempts to reverse this trend, but abortionists are the same all over the world, whether they are greedy capitalists or good Communist Party members, and they largely ignore the laws.

Despite Vietnam’s ongoing demographic train wreck, almost every major population control is aggressively active there. There are more than thirty large pop-con organizations in the nation, blindly attempting to eliminate even more of the next Vietnamese generation while ignoring the looming (and entirely predictable) demographic disaster that will result from their activities.

Almost Rich

I never thought I would become a millionaire by working in the pro-life movement, but it finally happened. Of course, my millions consisted of Vietnamese dong, with an exchange rate of 22,000 per U.S. dollar….

Father Peter Nguyen Van Hien, Director of the Saigon Pastoral Center of the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, met Dr. Ligaya and I at the airport with a big smile. He would generously accompany us for every event during the six days we would be here (only government workers refer to this city as “Ho Chi Minh City;” everyone else calls it Saigon).

As we drove to the Pastoral Center, we noticed the huge swarms of little motorcycles, which are absolutely amazing. Among the flowing rivers of motorbikes is the occasional brave bicyclist, often equipped with a tape deck wired to a bullhorn sitting in a basket, repeating the message “Warning: Bicycle” (in Vietnamese) over and over again.

Each morning, we had the privilege of dining with Archbishop Emeritus Jean-Baptiste Cardinal Pham Minh Mân of Saigon and several of his priests. His Eminence said that the Communists are not trying to suppress the Church in Vietnam because it has the same goal that the Church has, at least in part ― to advance the development and the interests of the Vietnamese people. In fact, the Communist government has adopted part of Cardinal Pham’s philosophy, which is to love all people regardless of their creed. The Cardinal is 82 years old and, like many his age, are not particularly fond of Americans. He wagged his finger at me and said “Jesus Christ brought us freedom from sin; America brought us freedom to sin.”

There are seven million Catholics in Vietnam, and their numbers are growing more rapidly than any other ethnic or religious group. There are about 3,200 priests serving this population, which represents almost as many priests per thousand Catholics in Vietnam as there are in the United States. But it appears that the priest shortage in this country will be short-lived because of the many vocations among the Vietnamese. All of the priests I met in Vietnam were not only ardently pro-life, but they knew the life issues as well. They are ably backed up by the more than one thousand lay catechists intensively trained by the Archdiocese of Saigon over the past three years alone.

The Communist government does not interfere overtly with the Catholic Church in Vietnam. Despite tension and even oppression in the recent past, the relationship could today be called “amicable.” The Vietnamese have seven major seminaries with more than 500 seminarians, and are planning on expanding. The Vocations Director for Saigon, Father Joseph Dang Chi Linh, says that he has about 150 young men who have expressed a firm interest in the priesthood. Here, vocations seem to come in clusters; one of the seven priests we ate with had three brothers who were also priests, and another had a brother who is a priest and a sister who is a nun. The two-child policy does not seem to be an impediment to vocations.

The Communist Party has found it easy to meddle with the Buddhists ― many monks are loyal Party members ― but Catholic beliefs are much more sharply defined, and the 7 million Vietnamese Catholics are better organized and catechized, a force to be reckoned with and hopefully managed, not suppressed, by the government.

If only the Church were this formidable all over the world!

Although the Church often cooperates on programs for the poor with the Communist Party, the irreconcilable difference is respect for the individual person. Communism sees the person as an expendable asset or tool, while the Church sees the person as an image of God.

A Vatican Cardinal will visit Vietnam in April 2016, and he will not only ordain one hundred priests, but will break the ground for a Catholic University of Vietnam. This University was the initiative of Cardinal Pham, who has done so much to grow the Church in this beautiful land. He obtained permission from the Communist government not by making a demand, but by stating a need and showing how it would benefit the people of Vietnam.

Still, the situation is unique in various ways. For instance, the Church is not a legal entity in Vietnam and therefore cannot own property. This means that pastors personally own their parishes and properties, and their successors “inherit” it when they leave. At least as far as freedom of speech is concerned, it seems that the Vietnamese are freer to practice their Catholic Faith than American and Canadian Catholics.

Thursday evening after the sun went down and things cooled off a bit, Ligaya and I walked a couple of miles to one of the central tourist attractions, the Ben Thanh Night Market. On our way back to the Pastoral Center at 9 PM, we saw young people praying and burning candles before the statue of Our Lady in front of the Saigon Cathedral. This is one of the city squares where teenagers congregate and hang out; there were scores of them, alternating between praying and flirting – not two activities you generally think of as compatible.

The brilliant full moon hovering over gleaming skyscrapers is not what I expected of Vietnam. I came here trying to have no preconceptions, but I suppose that is impossible.

Training Begins

We conducted the first day of our three-day training program on Friday evening. The theme was “Building a Culture of Life and Love,” and we intended to provide the foundation of information and materials required to do just that.

I spoke on the anti-life agenda and Ligaya spoke about the problems of contraception. Speaking in English here was a rather dicey job, because we had to have translators. Only about a dozen of the eighty or so people spoke any English, and the translation of a lot of the terms we use into Vietnamese was very difficult, with three translators working on it simultaneously and various members of the audience occasionally shouting out suggestions. Several people sat in the translator’s chairs and switched frequently. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, though, and seem to be learning quite a bit. Of course, I showed one or two of my short funny movies before and after each talk, and these are ideal because there is no dialogue. Humor is the same in any language.

The two full days of training on Friday and Saturday were both intensive and comprehensive. Ligaya and I covered a wide range of topics, since we had much more time than we were given in Bangkok.

In my talks I like to put the life issues in context by talking about the global anti-life agenda. Why is there such a vigorous push worldwide to legalize and support abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia? Who benefits from these efforts, and who loses? It is all just a giant shell game. While the Culture of Death, embodied by the United Nations and rich Western nations, distracts the people of developing nations with squabbling over various and sundry “rights,” they steal these same nations blind by pillaging their natural resources. This is all outlined in Henry Kissinger’s National Security Study Memorandum 200, which nobody seems to have heard of.

Dr. Ligaya focused more on anti-life practices and the damage they cause. She spoke on sex education, marriage, abortion and homosexuality. Through the three days of training, we had ample open forums for everyone to ask questions.

On our last night in Vietnam, Father Peter and Father Joseph took Dr. Ligaya and me out to a buffet dinner in town. The great thing about this restaurant is that it is always just packed with kids. Father Joseph explained that most children in Vietnam are from small families due to government policies, and they have tiny apartments and no gardens or playgrounds where the kids have room to run. This sounds horrible for the children. One young mom with a baby girl possessing the plumpest cheeks I have ever seen strolled by and she was happy to let me take photos of the little one. Everyone here is very happy to hear you praise the beauty of their children, even if they don’t understand exactly what you are saying.

Up before 3 on Sunday morning to go to the airport with Father Peter, out onto the street … and no motorbikes! Everything was quiet in Saigon. As we slowly drove through the deserted streets, I wondered how many American servicemen had traveled through these same quiet streets half a century ago.

Hopefully, Cardinal Pham’s earnest prediction that the love of Jesus Christ will conquer this nation will soon become a reality.

About Brian Clowes, PhD

Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.

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