Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/EdA) - Vietnamese Catholics will remember Fr Etienne Chan Tin as a staunch defender of religious freedom, a symbol of "Christian resistance" against the interference by political authorities, and a spokesman of civil society against the acts of injustice and oppression of the regime. The clergyman died last Saturday at the age of 92 in his cell in the Redemptorist convent in central Saigon after he came back from weeks in hospital.
For his entire life, he fought against oppression and various regimes-that of South Vietnam first, the Communist regime following reunification in 1975-in his writings, speeches and communication media. He dealt with religion, politics and civil society, strongly and vigorously supporting dissidents and political prisoners jailed for crimes of opinion and "anti-state propaganda".
Fr Etienne Chan Tin's funeral was held last Tuesday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ho Chi Minh City before a congregation of more than a hundred priests and thousands of faithful.
Friends and colleagues from many a battle but also ordinary people found comfort in his missionary work in times of "injustice and oppression".
In his homily, Fr Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, Redemptorist provincial superior, stressed that the value of "forgiveness" often expressed by the late clergyman is not only a "Christian commandment" but also "an element in the country's traditional culture," which calls for "reconciliation around the dead."
The clergyman was born on 15 November 1920 in a small village in Thua Tien-Hue Province. He took his vows in 1944 in the Redemptorist congregation and was ordained to the priesthood in 1949.
He lived through the major events that shook Vietnam in the 20th century: the Second World War, the country's division in 1954 (he lived in the south, which was politically and militarily linked to the United States), and its reunification under Hanoi's Communist regime.
Unconcerned about political leaders and governments, the Vietnamese priest never ceased to criticise the system's wrongdoings and wrong ideas, defending at the same time the inalienable principle of religious freedom as the basis of all human rights.
Of the many battles he fought during his lifetime-with several arrests and convictions-, it is worth remembering that when he met the Interior minister on 8 November 1989, he told him that the puppet and imperialist regime that ruled southern Vietnam until 1975 made "the same accusations and reproaches" that the Communist government would make against him years later.
Advocate and witness to the changes that came out of the Second Vatican Council, he founded with a group of friends a journal called Doi Dien to help Christians face the difficulties and challenges of modern times.
Even though his stance and campaigns in favour of political prisoners infuriated the authorities, Fr Etienne never gave up his ideas and battles, which he fought in open letters to the Central Committee of the Fatherland Front, an organisation linked to the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
In 1990, after the fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the Redemptorist clergyman called on the Vietnamese government to engage in some "deep soul-searching" and "sincerely repent", demands that saw him shipped off to Duyen Hai parish a few weeks later.
After he was allowed to leave three years later, he picked up again his campaign in favour of freedom in the country.