Government officials in Dak Lak province, a rural part of central Vietnam, have waived their normal traffic rules so that Catholics can get to Sunday Mass by tractor. “We’re happy they’ve allowed us to do this for the villagers, as many of them are elderly people, women and children,” said Peter Inuk, one of the tractor owners. “We use 10 tractors altogether, pulling hand made wagons to transport 200 people to Thuan Phuc church, which is 10 kilometers from their village,” he said. “On weekdays, we would be fined if we were caught, as farm vehicles are banned from running on national roads,” he added. “We used to be fined 30,000 to 50,000 dong (US$1.50-2.50) per tractor and we had to pay those fines many times a year.” The transport police relaxed the rules after 300 local Catholics, most of them from the Ede ethnic group in the Krong Buk district of Dak Lak, submitted a petition to the district authority. The petition asked for the villagers’ religious freedom to be respected, by allowing them to go to church by tractor as there is no chapel in the village. This meant that people had to walk to the church and often arrived when Mass was nearly over or missed it altogether. With the proviso that it would apply on Sundays only, the authority granted the request. During the rest of the week, the tractors are returned to their usual tasks of ploughing the land and carrying fertilizers and crops. Now that the system is up and running, with a contribution to fuel costs provided by local Dominican sisters, it is becoming more widespread. “People from other villages are also using tractors to take people to church,” said another driver, Joseph Ma Pu. Father Francis Xavier Tran Hong Linh, head of the local Thuan Hieu parish, has welcomed the innovation as it helps him and one other priest to bring pastoral care to around 8,000 Catholics in the area.
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