02/23/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Ho Chi Minh City, Catholics at work against AIDS and prostitution

by JB Vu
The diocesan committee of pastoral and social activities has organised a meeting to assess the social activities of the Church: the first challenge is against AIDS, prostitution, and the drama of children on the streets.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Children on the street, the scourge of AIDS, the drama of prostitution: these are the themes at the center of the social work of the archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, which gathered in recent days to assess the situation of various projects supported by the Church.

The meeting was organised by Fr Joseph Dinh Huy Huong, president of the committee of pastoral and social activities of the archdiocese.  It was attended by 9 priests, 11 religious representing their congregations, and 60 laypeople from the parish of Duc Tin.  Together with these, there were members of 10 civic groups from the field of social work.

Do Thi Thanh Nga has worked for 10 years for the social action group of Tien Chi, which is composed of members of various religions.  "We have a single goal, and that is to go to the poor, the sick, the elderly and the children on the street to bring them our help.  We pay special attention to the rural areas of the country, where we have created 18 'humanitarian camps' for disabled children".

The group has 18 Catholic doctors and 32 volunteers of other faiths.  "We work together without any discrimination.  Nevertheless, we encounter various obstacles, because having no political protector we often do not obtain permission to operate".

Another serious scourge in the zone is AIDS: 40% of those with this disease in Ho Chi Minh City are children.  One of them, 10 years old, tells AsiaNews: "My dream would be to go to school, but I can't.  People see me and avoid me, because they are aware of my disease.  I would like to have friends to play with".

Duong Thi Ban, a retired nurse and a parishioner of Tan Viet, tries to help these children, who contracted the HIV virus in their mother's womb.  Together with Sister Mai Thi Puong, religious of the Daughters of Mary, she cared for more than 300 sick children in 2007 in the district of Tan Binh.

Pham Thi Loan, vice-president of the Catholic Mothers of Ho Chi Minh City, works with prostitutes.  "We try to get them off the streets by giving them psychological help, work, and comfort.  It's difficult, but we do everything we can".

Catholics, says Fr Dinh, "work in various social fields: we work in silence, basing ourselves on the spirit of the bible.  Last year, the committee tried to help groups and individual laypeople with a social project, and we hope to be able to continue to do so.  We want to do everything possible to foster the development of our country".

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