In Ho Chi Minh City 5,000 AIDS patients get help from the Church
by Nguyen Hung
Despite discrimination by government authorities, priests, men and women religious and lay Catholics share in the important commitment made by Card Pham Minh Man.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – In the city once known as Saigon some 38,000 people are living with AIDS and the Catholic Church is playing an important role in helping them. At least 5,000 are receiving its assistance despite the meagre resources at its disposal and the many difficulties put up by the authorities, a situation which comes close to being outright discrimination.

In Viet Nam AIDS is affecting the whole country. Given the seriousness of the situation Card Pham Minh Man has launched various initiatives and taken several concrete steps. Currently in Ho Chi Minh City, more than five thousand people are benefiting from the assistance provided by priests, men and women religious and lay Catholics.

“We listened to Card Pham Minh Man’s call to get involved in some social projects in poor communities. Right now we are helping people with HIV/AIDS at the Trong Diem Centre,” said Sister Chanh, from the Congregation of Cho Quan Holy Cross Lovers, who is also vice chairperson of the Committee of Pastoral and Social Activities of the Archdiocese of Saigon.

“Though we are enthusiastic in working and providing practical social services to help people, the Trong Diem Centre is not an easy place to work with because it belongs to the state and is run by a government office. Catholics are still discriminated compared to government staff. Different working methods complicate matters and we (Catholics) have no real authority to organise social activities and aid programmes for people.”

“Catholics have also participated in professional social work. The diocese has carried out social activities that involve physical and psychological treatment,’ said Dr John, who lectures at Ho Chi Minh City University and has shared in the social work experience of new priests from the Congregation of Redemptorists.

“In Duc Tin Parish there is a consulting centre where some 200 poor people are helped out each month by four medical doctors,” he explained. “And the government should expand social work services in order to promote better living conditions and a more stable development in the city by giving religions greater opportunities to take part in community development projects.”

In addition to medical and psychological assistance, Catholic social workers promote prevention. There are for instance 65 centres working with street kids, promoting saving and loans projects to help the poor.

“I do not know what I will do when I graduate from the sociology department of Ho Chi Minh Open University,” said Mr Huy, who wants to become a social worker. “We have a lot to study but it is largely theoretical. What is more some Catholic professors must do other jobs because they are discriminated against. When the government violates religious freedom I think about our fundamental human rights.”