Christmas in Saigon: Catholic pastoral and social activities for the poor and needy

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In the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, Catholics have organised a series of pastoral and social activities for Christmas aimed at people with "special" needs, namely kids and adults who have disabilities or health problems or from families in difficulty. Open to the contribution of non-Catholics, these initiatives are characterised by enthusiasm and community participation.

Christmas in Saigon: Catholic pastoral and social activities for the poor and needy

For one Saigon Catholic, the festive season "cannot be limited to celebrations and street festivals". On the contrary, parishes "must try to live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ" by acting "humbly and serving others."

One of activities in favour of the less fortunate included a trip to the San Ben leper colony organised by the Caritas branch in Xóm Chieu in cooperation with the Association of Catholic Mothers and parishioners in Tac Roi.

In Vietnam, some 70,000 people suffer from leprosy (aka Hansen's disease) at present, but only a small fraction receive proper medical care.

To fill the gap, various religious congregations and groups of nuns help patients in a number of facilities. One of them is the San Ben colony.

Set up more than 50 years ago by French Sisters of Charity in cooperation with Vietnamese nuns, this hospital now has six medical wards, plus one for people with mental health problems.

Over the years, the nuns have treated 395 patients as well as 120 children from families in difficulty who now attend school regularly.

Caritas volunteers in Vuon Xoai have instead brought together Catholic and non-Catholic doctors and nurses to provide free medical treatment to the poor and people in difficulty, including the elderly, disabled and abandoned children.

In Saigon, the local Caritas, Saigon launched an appeal this Christmas to doctors to volunteer their services in the poorest coastal areas and the more isolated parishes.

In preparation for the birth of Jesus, the Tân Đinh Parish also organised retreats for children, youth and parents, as well as moments of Eucharistic adoration with parishioners devoting part of their time to help those in need without distinction of religion.

"Our priests and parishioners just want to bring the love of Jesus and the joy of Christmas" to the "little roses" who live in Cu Chi district," a member of Caritas Việt Tân told AsiaNews.

Many of these children were abandoned, saved from abortion or before their parents killed them.

Their fate "reminds us that every day, hundreds of innocent children are thrown out by their parents or killed in the wombs of their mothers," the volunteer said.

Currently, Vietnam has a population of about 87 million people. Buddhists are 48 per cent, slightly more than 7 per cent are Catholic; 5.6 per cent hold syncretistic beliefs, and lastly, approximately 20 per cent are atheist.

Although a minority (albeit an important one), Christians are particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

By contrast, religious freedom has been steadily eroded. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, which is increasingly limited by Vietnam's Communist one-party state.

Thanh Thuy

Source: (Dec. 23, 2013)