Religion Creates a Strangeness
Just one of those simple humble Catholic churches in Vietnam.
Our story begins
There are folks still alive that we born in an era of colonization. A mere 70 years ago in parts of our world the French still maintained what would best be called colonies. And just 30 years or so prior they colonized using in large part missionaries. Of course we would know that these were Catholic. My grandmother in law who lived to be 105 and passed on a few years ago. She was basically born in a kingdom which during her young life was then controlled and governed by the French. She seems to have been a member of the upper class and rather than being completely under the yoke of the foreigners just was part of an assimilation of their culture.
Now this land was in general a Buddhist land. There was much ancestor worship and Confucianism. The land was and is greatly agrarian. The Catholic church got a foothold there and while small in actual numbers of people was quite prominent and powerful. The French at the time were still influenced greatly by the Catholic church.So we are talking of the time from around the 1850's through a bit after World War II.
Think of a place in the 1940's into the 1950's where industrialization was just starting. Not an industrial revolution more like a grudging giving way to partial industrial growth. A place with it's own particular brand of language just committed to a highly particular written form in the 1920's. And this foisted upon it by missionaries. A place that had been occupied by the Chinese for around a thousand years and yet now independent except still stuck in the arcane notion of imperialism from the West.
In this climate a man is born. To make matters more crazy he was actually born during a brief Japanese semi-occupation during WWII. Born into a farming family in the south of the country. He found his way into a Catholic school at a young school age. As life would have it he became ordained a Catholic priest.
For those of you following closely, the land is Viet Nam. Actually the Kingdom of Viet Nam and now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Alright the scene is set, let us move along to where this gets interesting and confusing.
This is one of my favorite churches. I lived about where this picture was taken.
If you never heard this please listen up!
A charismatic leader happened onto the scene in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was his name. Quite a colorful chap in the right place at the right time to become important. He was in the north of Vietnam in the city of Hanoi. He had to throw off the yoke of the French. His earlier travels, work and study in Europe including France brought him to be aligned with the communist ideas. He had some time in China right as Mao was ascending. But in all fairness he looked all around for help in getting rid of the French and was rejected by the West and in particular the Americans. Nationalistic cronyism run amok among "red" menace fear mongers. The south really had a middle and upper class doing very well with the French and Americans. And civil war was born.
Back to our budding young priest. As a young man he did well in ministering to his flock and evangelizing. Then his side lost. Communists really do not care much for Catholics, especially back in the 1960s and 1970's. When Saigon fell our priest became a boat person and made his way into the United States.
A good time for some religion here. Catholics allow for different rules in areas of missions and conversion in foreign lands. Historically Priests cannot marry. But historically this proviso is waived in the arena of bringing Catholicism to new lands. So yes, in this case our priest was married. Another important concept of note here is that the Catholics incorporate and assimilate cultures into their own in a gradual conversion program. It is kind of complicated but they allow certain aspects of distinctly un-Catholic beliefs to be practiced pretty much alongside Catholicism.
Now in the U.S. the priest became a beacon of sorts for hundreds of Vietnamese refugees. Along the way the priest had a civil war of his own. The priest left the Catholic church bringing his followers with him into what used to be called "Catholic Light", the Episcopal church. They were quite similar to the Catholics but fully embraced a married priest here in the U.S.. He led an Episcopal outreach missionary church for the Vietnamese as part of Asian outreach. All was going great.
Now as so often happens the congregation really became followers of the priest and not the church. Priests carry a heavy burden. Over years they can become a little bit more about themselves than the religion. There is a delicate balance that must be struck. You want the personal touch but yet it cannot be about the person. This is really hard to maintain and often over years is not paid attention to very closely. Especially older folks seem to fall into a comfort zone and kind of lazily just listen to what is told to them instead of having their own relationship with God. Friendship and trust can over time tend to become the mainstay instead of the spirituality.
This feller won more awards for his Gospel than all the other genres. Religion is strange.
Just a little Pagota in a little old Country Town. Cu Chi Vietnam.
More, not so civil, war
The Episcopals hit a snag. The Episcopal church in the United States is a kind of branch of the Anglican church of England. Born of a King needing a divorce and not getting it from within the Catholic hierarchy. The King just made his own church. Got his divorce and carried on. So the Anglicans basically just followed most of the Catholic traditions, without a Pope. Expand it to the USA and call it Episcopal.
Now remember our Priest who for a large part left the Catholic church with his followers because of his status as married.
Here comes trouble for the Episcopals, especially the elder ones. Gayness happened. And a real civil war ensued. That church fractured. Oh my the machinations were tremendous. Quite quickly about a third of the churches in the Episcopal church structure left and joined and formed other churches. You see the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) embraced gayness. They went so far as to ordain LGBT priests. So congregations comprised of mostly older folks left the church.
You got it. Our priest led his "congregation" out of the church over the issue of human sexuality. Remember he left the Catholics about being married. So the congregation went nondenominational for awhile but was looking for a home. They basically rented space from the ever accommodating Lutherans.
Now the Catholics are no dummies. They saw this split and established protocols for what they called "Ordinary Catholicism". A marvelous concept to bring into the fold the break a way congregations of "lapsed" Catholics and quite attractive to the Episcopal congregations that left due to gayness issues.
Our priest's congregation is now into the new century. A generation has passed. The numbers are dwindling due to death and no attractiveness in the now assimilated second generation of immigrants. He applies to be accepted into the ranks of the "Ordinary Catholic". From inside the Vatican he is accepted. On his way to bring the fold back into the Catholic church. But alas there is a proviso.
Acceptance or not
The proviso was that it had to be accepted by the Catholic Asian community of the diocese in which the Priest's congregation would belong. Now the congregation members could of course all join the Catholic church. But as a congregation their priest had to be accepted. To a person they chose to follow the priest.
Guess what? The Asian Catholic community would not accept a married priest.
The priest eventually got accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church. The elderly congregation all got "baptized" there. Interestingly there is not room for them in that particular church building so they still rent from the Lutherans.
We seem to learn about God through books.
Interesting and strange.
As for this old fella, I like religions and sects within religions. They are fascinating. Somehow the man tries to establish rules and procedures to assure appropriateness to God. Truly a remarkable concept. Just the idea that a whole bunch of people feel, think, pray and worship the same is amazing. My wife really finds comfort in it. Good for her. Structure is often quite beneficial.
Sometimes I like a good solid poem. Sometimes I like really structured poetry. Sometimes I like a solo act singer. Sometimes I like a symphony. I tend to gravitate more toward conversations than speeches. Isn't that just me?
I pause and look over to my 11 bibles. And I just can't help but wonder if there should not be 7 billion different bibles.