09/11/2006, 00.00
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Catholics provide social services and catechism in northern Vietnam

by Nguyen Van Tranh
The faithful lack places to worship and celebrate mass but are increasingly involved in pastoral and social activities inside parishes, dealing with old and new problems. 

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The Parish Committee of the Vietnam Bishops' Council recently organised a workshop on the role of missionaries in the country. It gave participants an opportunity to debate activities at the parish level, especially in northern dioceses. The event, which was held in meeting hall of the Thanh Hoa diocese, enabled participants to share in joy their experiences.

A participant told AsiaNews that "Kim Lu Parish, founded in 1886, is one of the poorest parishes in the diocese of Vinh. The congregation numbers some 3,600 members and is located in a mountainous region in Quang Binh province. We only had one priest in the past 54 years, but our difficulties have strengthened our faith."

"Before 1945 there was a small chapel there, but it was destroyed during the war," a young volunteer catechist said. "This forced worshippers into the mountains. In recent years they started holding prayers and bible reading in homes that were often small, with leaky roofs and sometimes very dilapidated. Still the faithful came numerous on Sundays.

Sisters from the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross take care of the poorest children in the diocese of Thanh Hoa. Some of them are actually trained in social work.

"We are running a project to help parishioners who suffered losses in a recent storm," Sister Tham said. "We are working with Catholics, Buddhists, ancestor worshippers and atheists".

Pastoral and social initiatives by parishioners are commonplace in southern Vietnam as well. In the archdiocese of Saigon, the faithful teach catechism, provide pastoral services and engage in missionary activities.

Last Thursday, the diocesan pastoral centre began offering courses that included Bible classes, social work, community development and counselling for parents and children. Hundreds of people took part.

Joseph Hieu, a local elementary school teacher and head of the counselling class, said that parishioners in Ho Chi Minh City come from different backgrounds and walks of life. "We are doctors, teachers, social workers and students. After our regular work, we get together to volunteer for the parish. What we do is uplifting because it helps us understand our fellow man and love God. We are happy when we are involved this way."

Huy, a young volunteer, is involved with HIV-AIDS patients. He said that they "need love and attention. We read and pray for them in hospital where they come in the last phase of the disease. Hospital staff is afraid to stay with them. If you have AIDS you are alone. We bring God to them."

Official figures show that there are 40,000 HIV/AIDS patients in Ho Chi Minh City. Under normal circumstances, the authorities would not want Catholics' help, but the city's People's Committee asked Card Pham Minh Man from the archdiocese of Saigon to have some of the parishioners work with the sick, and many have responded with enthusiasm.

"We are working and praying with them," some of the volunteers said, "so that we can overcome the suffering without discrimination with the help of the love of Jesus has for all."

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