The “record” number of baptisms among central highland villagers is a boost for evangelization work among people who don't have a resident priest. “There were 416 indigenous people from 51 villages who were baptized during the Easter Vigil Mass,” said Franciscan Brother Peter Nguyen Trung Phat. “This is a record number of baptisms we have had since we started to work with villagers in 2007,” Brother Phat said. In the past the Franciscans baptized 30-80 people a year, he added. These villages are located in Ia Grai district in Gia Rai province. The brother said local government authorities have not yet recognized local chapels and pastoral activities among those remote villages. “We must be faithful to our mission although the government often asks us to leave the area where they say there is no religious need,” he said. Brother Phat noted that some 100 catechists trained by the Franciscans quietly provide one-year courses in catechism for villagers. “They work well because they know the ethnic languages and culture,” he said. Maria Rocham H’De, an ethnic Jarai catechist, said that she weekly travels to villages and teaches catechism. “It is dangerous because we ride motorbikes through forests during night time,” the 29-year-old woman said. Puih Klon, who was baptized, said she cannot read and write so “I learnt by heart every word of catechism, Mass order, confession formula, daily prayers and even the Bible.” She and her husband and their two children were baptized during the Easter Vigil service in a chapel at her village. About 1,000 Catholics attended services at the chapel. A dozen Franciscans there provide Bana, Jarai and Sedang ethnic villagers with health care, food, basic education, clean water and livestock. Young people are given vocational skills. Meanwhile, a 200 year-old Easter tradition in a parish in parish continues to bring good luck to Catholics in Quang Trach district of Quang Bing province. Here villagers take home the pieces of aloe wood that the priest sticks to the Easter candle during the blessing of the fire and lighting of the candle during Vigil Mass. Catholics believe that that it will bring them good luck in their endeavors. This year 13 people were lucky enough to receive these bits of wood signifying Christ’s wounds, said Father Anthony Dau Thanh Minh, who heads the local parish. Anthony Nguyen Quang Hoang, a poultry keeper, said he places these bits of wood on his farm to protects his flock of ducks from bird flu and other diseases. In 2004, about 5,000 birds died due to an epidemic but his flock of 700 were safe thanks to the blessed piece of wood. Father Minh said this tradition dates back to the 18th century.
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