Sunday, May 29, 2011
(PICTURE: The church in Kon Tum.)
A couple years ago, my friend Nicky made a comment on a motorbike trip we were on. As we passed a few churches in the countryside, he said, "If the Catholic Church is good at one thing, it's building churches." I'm not sure if Nicky is Catholic or not, but this line has stuck with me for awhile now and never more so than on this trip.
In the north, churches are pretty few and far between. There's a couple in Hanoi, a famous one in Ninh Binh and then a bunch of old ones in smaller countryside towns. However, when you start to hit the center of the country, churches are EVERYWHERE.
At one point, Huyen and I were driving through a very back country area, through rice fields, and we saw not one, not two, but three HUGE churches less than a mile apart. I was sort of dumbfounded because seemingly one huge church could have fit all of the local people in it.
The churches are also quite beautiful and modern and almost all have steeples that rise high above anything else in the area. I asked my friend Hien about this and she said that many Vietnamese living abroad send back money to have churches built in their communities.
The only church Huyen and I visited was the oldest churches in Vietnam, located in Kon Tum. The church was built almost 100 years ago (1913) by a French priest. The church is completely made of wood and has some gorgeous stained glass on the inside.
(PICTURE: I think that's a cow but could be a water buffalo.)
When we arrived at the church there were hundreds of people pouring in. By the time we left, the whole outside lawn of the church was filled for a ceremony. I'd say there were probably 2,000 or more people there. Perhaps the coolest thing though was some of the local decoration on the inside of the church as there were lots of traditional ethnic minority handicrafts all over the walls and dangling from the ceiling.
Like in many other places in Vietnam though, this one church couldn't house everyone. Right down the street there were two gigantic, modern churches.