Catholic comfort in Vietnam hospitals

Marian statues are an 'essential' source of solace for sick people and their families
Catholic comfort in Vietnam hospitals

A woman offers incense in front of a Marian statue at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City. ( photo) reporter, Ho Chi Minh City
March 23, 2017
In the scorching noon sun, a thin woman carried her sick daughter to a Marian statue where they placed some cake, lit incense and whispered prayers.

"Today we leave the hospital for home. We thank the Blessed Mother for curing my daughter of blood poisoning after she was treated here for 10 days," Thuy said and smiled at her daughter.

The woman from Long An Province, who gave only one name, said other patients told her to pray in front of the Marian statue after her daughter was hospitalized. The statue was erected in 1974 by Catholic staff in the compound of the 155-year-old Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the oldest hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

"We prayed to the Blessed Mother several times a day. Although we are Buddhists we believe she saved my daughter by showing the doctors how to treat her disease," she said.

Nearby, a Catholic couple in their late 50s sat on a stone bench reciting the rosary and looking up at the statue. The woman, who declined to give her name, said her husband has been suffering cirrhosis since 2015.

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"We have prayed to the Blessed Mother for months. We appeal to her that we have good doctors to cure him," she said. "You see many boards of thanksgiving around here, meaning that Blessed Mother answers patients' prayers."

She said many patients and their relatives regardless of their backgrounds gather around the statue in the evening to pray, recite the rosary and sing hymns. Catholics offer flowers, incense and candles while people of other faiths give fruits, food and incense.

"We, who are getting desperate, put our lives in the trust of God and the Blessed Mother. This Marian statue gives us spiritual strength to overcome our sufferings," she said.


Catholic and Buddhist statues on a pedestal in the middle of an ornamental pool in Cho Ray Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City. ( photo)


Many statues of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and other saints stand in old hospitals in the city. People say that some statues were built by hospital staff before 1975 — prior to the communists taking control — while many have been quietly erected in recent years by patients.

Buddhist statues are also put up in hospitals. Officials sometimes try to remove them but patients erect new ones again. They also clean and decorate the statues with flowers.

A one-meter-high statue of Our Lady of Graces stands under a four-pillar tower in the compound of Children Hospital Two, built in 1879. The statue is believed to be as old as the hospital.

Framed copies of written prayers hang on the along with pictures of Jesus and the saints.

The Marian statue looks down on children and their parents, sitting on stone benches and praying hard.

Various Catholic and Buddhist statues also stand in the middle of an ornamental pool in the 117-year-old Cho Ray Hospital. Patients and their relatives offer incense and fruits in front of the statues day and night.

An old woman who wanted to only be called Nang said she and other poor people live on the fruit patients offer to the Blessed Mother after they are cured.

"The Blessed Mother not only cures and consoles but feeds poor people like me," said the Cao Dai follower from Ca Mau province.

Paul Nguyen Duc Tri whose five-month-old son suffers blood cancer, said cancer patients and their relatives need the spiritual support to overcome depression.

He daily prays for his son to be cured before statues of Jesus and the Blessed Mother that stand in a small corner in the administration ward of the Oncology Hospital. He also invited a priest to baptize and anoint him.

A nun who works with patients in hospitals said some priests and nuns quietly administer the sacraments to patients although they are not allowed to work with patients as religions are banned from running hospitals in Vietnam.

The nun said some patients who are depressed find no comfort having thrown themselves from high buildings to commit suicide.

"It is religious faith that is an essential source of comfort for patients. Faith gives them strength to overcome their crisis and accept their reality as what God gives them," the nun said under conditions of anonymity.

"They will find peace in mind and will not lament their fate and try to commit suicide," she added.

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