NHA TRANG — In a provincial church in Nha Trang, on Vietnam’s southern coast, a steady stream of parishioners arrive for Saturday evening mass. This chapel is typical of the many churches that dot the landscape, as is its relationship with the authorities.
Outside, Catholics make the sign of the cross and pray at a grotto as a cool breeze sweeps in from across the South China Sea. They practice openly and are quick to say that life as a Christian in communist Vietnam has improved dramatically in recent years.
“It’s a much better relationship with the government. Before they didn’t understand us at all. Now, it’s okay – to a point,” one parishioner said, on condition of anonymity.
People here are still wary of upsetting the authorities in Hanoi, where religions of all persuasions are viewed with suspicion. New laws have just passed to manage the faithful and ensure “national security and social harmony” are not upset by what the government sees as “wayward beliefs in god.”