New Cosmology No Longer New in Vietnam
Fox, Thomas C., National Catholic Reporter
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM * "So what's your idea of God?" I put the question to Sr. Dang Thi Ngoc Bich as she sat after a class at the archdiocesan pastoral center here.
Ngoc Bich, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of the World, was with a group of a dozen or so other women religious at the center, which draws religious and lay for pastoral education. The religious generally use its facilities during the day and laypeople come more often at night, after work.
"God's a mystery" Ngoc Bich answered after thinking on the question for a half minute. She then added, "If I could describe God, it wouldn't be God."
And, of course, she was right. The women broke into laughter, as if to say to the questioner: "That was a stupid question. What did you expect?"
Truth is, I didn't quite know what to expect. But what surprised me more than her answer was the course the women were taking at the center--a course on ecology with a focus on what is loosely known as the new cosmology, its spiritual underpinning.
Ngoc Bich appears to be cut from the same stripe as so many other Vietnamese women religious: young and cheerful. Vietnam is a young country Most of its people are under the age of 25. Most women religious are under the age of 35. At 34 years old, Ngoc Bich has already been a religious for 17 years.
If there is a shortage of women religious in the West, here in Vietnam the problem is one of abundance. Over and over one hears it said that with so many young women eager to join religious communities, resources are strapped and issues of religious and spiritual formation are paramount.
I asked the women at the center what they felt is the greatest social challenge facing Vietnam today Almost in unison the women said ecology Unless the people attend to ecological needs, they explained, all other social issues will only get worse, and the fabric of Vietnamese society will weaken.
Studies have indicated, for example, that one-third to one-half of the Mekong Delta, the nation's primary food source, is in peril and could be underwater in 50 years if sea levels continue to rise.
That ecology would be viewed by these women as Vietnam's No. 1 social challenge took me by surprise. …