Vietnamese Catholic students serve food to Hmong Catholics at Ngon Lanh chapel on April 29. (Photo by Joseph Nguyen/ucanews.com)
Catholic students have shown solidarity with Hmong villagers in northwest Vietnam by offering them food to enjoy on national holidays.
Some 130 Catholics who study at colleges and universities in the capital Hanoi paid a special visit to 200 Hmong Catholics in Ngon Lanh subparish in Van Chan district of Yen Bai province on April 29-30.
Peter Vu Duc Bien, an organizer, said it was meaningful for students to spend their free time visiting underprivileged people in remote areas.
Vietnam had national holidays on April 30 (Reunification Day) and May 1 (International Workers' Day).
"The visit aimed to give us an opportunity to share Christ's love with local people and encourage them to overcome challenges to practice their faith," Bien said.
Students traveled 300 kilometers by bus and had to walk 8 kilometers along hilly paths to Ngon Lanh.
Bien, 25, said students attended Mass, played traditional games with Hmong children and danced with them around a campfire at the subparish's chapel under construction. They served Catholics good food, gave a concert performance and held Taize-style prayers.
They also spent the night at local people's houses and offered them old clothes and 42 gifts including rice, salt, cooking oil, dried fish, instant noodles, shoes and blankets. The gifts, each costing 500,000 dong (US$22), were donated by benefactors.
He said each student donated 5 kilograms of rice and 300,000-350-000 dong for trip fees.
"We learned various traditions, customs, simple lifestyles and hospitality from people who live in poverty," Bien said.
Joseph Pham Chien Thang, a first-year student who visited the area for the first time, said he was impressed that local people used motorbikes to carry many students on rough paths to the chapel.
"They are very friendly and optimistic about life in spite of their difficulties. We thank them for all they did for us during the visit," the 19-year-old said.
He said villagers walk on rough paths that are slippery in the rainy season. They live in small leaf houses and use water from the mountains. Children have to walk 2 kilometers to study at an elementary school in bad condition.
Joseph Mua A Pao, 78, a former lay leader, said this was the first time local Catholics had received visitors from other places since they relocated there 25 years ago.
"We were very happy to have time with them. They brought joy to us," said Pao, whose family was among the first three Hmong families to move to the area in 1993.
He said local families have an average of 5-7 children and some have 10 children. They collect bamboo shoots and other items from forests, raise cattle and grow crops for a living.
Priests from Vinh Quang parish, 30 kilometers away, visit and provide pastoral services twice a month.