For Tet, Vietnamese Catholics promote solidarity initiatives for the poor and children
by Nguyen Hung
The Church celebrates three-day festivity marking the start of the year of the Horse with Masses and moments of prayer. Caritas expresses closeness to HIV-positive people. Two Ho Chi Minh City priests promote initiatives for children. For Saigon Catholic, faith is the remedy to the "disasters caused by atheism in the north."

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese Catholic Church began a three-day celebration to mark the start of the Year of the Horse, holding Masses and moments of prayer.

On this occasion, the faithful undertook initiatives of solidarity for the poor, the marginalised and the children, so that the Lunar New Year (Tet) may not only be a time "to party linked to tradition" but also a moment full of "humanity" and care for others.

Prayer intentions were dedicated to both ancestors (a deeply rooted practice), the next harvest, the environment, employment, and even greater collaboration among people.

The many initiatives include one by Bishop Joseph Nguyen Van Yen, vice-president of the Commission for Pastoral, and the Social Action of Caritas Vietnam.

Together with priests, nuns and ordinary members, they visited the poor and disabled in Vinh Phu Parish, in the Diocese of Bui Chu (Nam Dinh province, northern Vietnam) bringing presents.

Winter in this corner of northern part of Vietnam is characterised by intense cold and bad weather. The poor who have no food, shelter, blankets or housing are the ones who suffer the most.

At a time of celebration, several parishes also organised visits to orphanages and to scattered remote villages, as well as city shelters, in order to bring help and solidarity to the less fortunate.

In recent days, Caritas Saigon met and offered small gifts to hundreds of people living with HIV/AIDS at Nhan Ai Hospital, in the southern province of Binh Phuoc.

Some nuns work at the facility, along with doctors, nurses and medical staff, caring for the sick.

In Ho Chi Minh City, two priests under took another of the many initiatives underway. In their case, children were the main beneficiaries. Asked to put aside some money, some of them raised small amounts of cash for Tet to help charities like the Thị Nghè Centre for orphans and disabled children.

New Year is also a time when migrant workers traditionally travel back to their ancestral home to spend the holidays with family.

This is particular true for workers from northern and central Vietnam, who came to Ho Chi Minh City because of its greater economic opportunities.

Still, not all of them can make the journey home because they do not have enough money to meet the expenses of the trip.

In view of this, the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants of the Archdiocese of Saigon began specific projects, providing warmth and comfort to the thousands of migrants who remain in Vietnam's southern metropolis during Tet festivities.

"Through faith, we want to spread peace, freedom and contribute to the nation's development, and remedy the disasters caused by atheism in the north of the country," said one Saigon Catholic, who asked for anonymity.

Out of Vietnam's 87 million people, 48 per cent are Buddhists, more than 7 per cent are Catholics, 5.6 per cent follow syncretistic religions and 20 per cent are atheist.

As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

In recent years, religious freedom has steadily eroded. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, increasingly subjected to the whims of the Communist Party and the one-party state.