Fr Joseph Nguyen Van Huong founded the Free Rice Free Shop in 2012 in Ho Chi Minh City’s central district, where life is expensive. Every day, the facility provides a free meal to hundreds of workers, seniors, orphans and the poor. For Pham Thi, 72, it offers much more: “Whilst we are eating, parish volunteers talk to us, ask about our life and problems.”
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Fr Joseph Nguyen Van Huong founded the Free Rice Shop, a centre run by volunteers from Chợ Đũi parish that offers the poor, the needy, students and orphans an oasis of hope and a free meal in the metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City.
On 4 April, the clergyman and the faithful renewed their commitment to works of mercy during a big Eucharistic celebration at the city’s pastoral centre. Some 7,000 people came for the service, many from neighbouring dioceses, responding to Pope Francis’ appeal to engage in charity work for the downtrodden.
"The Holy Father confirmed that the pillar that supports the Church is God's mercy,” said Fr Joseph Đào Nguyên Vũ SJ in his homily. “It is the heart, the breath of the Church. Compassion is a human instinct; mercy is the nature of God."
Speaking after the Mass, some of the faithful described Fr Huong, who founded the Free Rice Shop, as the poor people’s priest. “He helps us without any discrimination and can identify with us,” they said.
For years, he headed the St Joseph Major Seminary in Ho Chi Minh City, and is now vicar at Chợ Đũi parish.
Day in, day out, the Free Rice Shop on Tôn Thất Tùng Street, in Ho Chi Minh City’s central district, provides a free meal to hundreds of people who come from all over the city.
"Every day I sell lottery tickets to raise my eight-year-old nephew,” said an elderly Buddhist woman. “I do not have enough money to buy rice. Since I found out that the centre gives out free rice to the poor, I and my nephew come here every day. "
The centre was not set up only to hand out food, but rather to communicate God’s mercy to the downtrodden.
“Whilst we are eating, parish volunteers talk to us, ask about our life and problems,” said Pham Thi, 72.
"Poor workers come at lunch time to survive,” a cafeteria volunteer said, “because life in the central district of Ho Chi Minh City is very expensive.”
“Sometimes they are forced to skip meals because they don’t have enough money to buy a bowl of rice or some bread. Our facility helps hundreds of workers in such conditions. They come here, eat, and share with others the difficulties of their lives."
For Ho Chi Minh City student Nguyễn Tuấn Linh, "When I come here to lunch, it is like staying with my family. This place is full of love. I often help people who also come here to cool off.”
“I am happy because here I have matured, and learnt to love others. I hope Fr Huong and the volunteers will have greater means to develop this centre."