"Many are moved by this show of love. Jesus’s love comes to them," said Fr Joseph Đinh Hữu Thoại, a clergyman who serves the poor in the mountainous areas near Đà Nẵng. His work is hampered by the harsh controls and "pressure" from local authorities. For years, Redemptorist Fathers have been helping Republic of Vietnam veterans after their defeat at the hands of the Communists.
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Fr Joseph Đinh Hữu Thoại, a Redemptorist Father, offers free health care to more than 400 former South Vietnamese soldiers living in precarious conditions in central Vietnam.
The soldiers fought for the Republic of Vietnam, a US ally, which was defeated by the North Vietnamese army in 1975 when the country was reunified after 20 years of fighting.
Since then, the Communist government has forgotten if not abandoned 20,000 veterans wounded in the war who are unable to earn a living today. For this reason, they are forced to beg in the streets.
For years, the Redemptorist Fathers have helped these veterans. In 2013, they launched an initiative called ‘Gratitude for South Vietnamese veterans’. They also provide health care and spiritual support for more 6,000 ex-soldiers, 3,500 since 2017.
Beneficiaries get health insurance, cash donations, gifts and free tickets to travel to Ho Chi Minh City from nearby provinces.
Together with the priests, doctors, nurses and volunteers, they encourage and bring some comfort to the veterans, showing them that someone cares.
In 2016, the Redemptorists in Saigon sent Fr Joseph Đinh Hữu Thoại to serve in the mountainous areas around Đà Nẵng, a city whose modernity clashes with the difficult economic conditions and social marginalisation of thousands of Catholics, including many children.
Before, the clergyman headed the congregation's Justice and Peace department. In southern Vietnam, he led a project that provided 800 veterans free medical exams. On 16 April, Fr Joseph began something similar in the provinces of Phú Yên and Quảng Tri.
The difficulties the priest and volunteers who help him are greater because of the harsh controls and the "pressure" that local authorities exert over former South Vietnamese soldiers.
Finding money to fund his work is an uphill battle since local Catholic communities are among the poorest in the country.
"From the first day” said Fr Joseph, “we never had enough money, but we did find resources. In fact, we continue our charity work for these groups.
"At the same time, we are looking carefully at how to do our work and share our experiences with others. We have asked for help from benefactors, doctors, nurses and volunteers, so that they can join us in helping ex-soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam."
Fr Joseph is happy with how the work is going. "Priests, doctors, nurses and volunteers are very happy to see the 'happy faces' of the veterans. Many are moved by this show of love. Jesus’s love comes to them.
"Our work is not limited to providing them with 'gifts' or medical visits or counselling from doctors. It is important and essential that they feel happy and not forgotten. In addition, they have the opportunity to meet fellow soldiers and remember their heroic time. In particular, they are very happy when there are people who love them."