Father Joseph Phan Tan Ho introduces Father Mattheus Mai Nguyen Vu Thach (in black) to Buddhists at Long Tho Center for Disabled Children in Hue on Sept. 30. (Photo: UCA News)
Catholics in central Vietnam have developed interfaith relations with local Buddhists by celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival with hundreds of disabled children.
More than 100 children with physical disabilities in blue T-shirts sang songs, clapped and welcomed a group of priests, religious and volunteers at the Buddhist-run Long Tho Center for Disabled Children in Hue on Sept. 30.
Catholic visitors played organs, sang children’s songs and offered traditional games to children, mostly from Buddhist families. Children also performed traditional dances and sang songs.
They offered them gifts including balloons, Mid-autumn cake, sweets, rice, instant noodles, fish sauce and bobble hats, each costing 200,000 dong (US$9).
“The visit aims at bringing Mid-autumn Festival joy to these disabled children who have few opportunities to celebrate the yearly traditional festival like others,” said Sacred Heart Father Joseph Phan Tan Ho, head of the group.
Father Ho, who works with disadvantaged people regardless of their backgrounds in the central provinces, said the event was also designed to maintain interfaith constructive dialogue between local Catholics and Buddhists. Thua Thien Hue province is home to Buddhism in central Vietnam.
Father Mattheus Mai Nguyen Vu Thach, head of Hue Archdiocese’s interfaith committee, and Buddhist nun Thich Nu Thoai Nghiem, vice director of the center, also handed gifts to the children.
“We would like to thank you very much for warmly welcoming us,” Father Thach told the center staff and children. The priest hopes the event will promote cooperative, constructive, friendly and positive interaction between followers of the two faiths.
Thich Nu Thoai Nghiem said she was deeply grateful to Catholic visitors who love and provide generous basic supplies for children at the center. Many suffer Down syndrome, paralysis, hearing and visual impairments, and congenital abnormalities.
Nguyen Van Thoi, who suffers paralysis of both legs and uses a wheelchair, said he was happy to celebrate the festival with Catholics who treated him with respect. His father died in a road accident and his mother remarried. The 19-year-old man had to sell lottery tickets for a living before he was admitted to the center in 2017.
Caritas workers and volunteers also held Mid-autumn ceremonies for 100 other children with physical disabilities and infected with HIV/AIDS at the Pastoral Center in Hue. Most of the beneficiaries were from Buddhist families.
Lovers of the Holy Cross Sister Mary Truong Thi Thao, a member of Caritas in Hue, said the children made lanterns, performed lion dances, played games, had meals and received gifts.
“We try to bring the children festival joy and strengthen our relationships with their families,” said Sister Thao, who is in charge of children's service.
Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation Sister Therese Nguyen Thi Kim Lan said her congregation also gave gifts and food to 45 children from Buddhist families who live on boats in rivers on Sept. 27.
She said nuns pay regular visits to their families and teach human values and English to them on Sundays at the mother house.
Joseph Tran Ngoc Tri, head of Catholic youths in Kim Doi Parish, said young people make money by performing lion dances around the parish and offer school supplies, lanterns and cake to 200 children.
He said catechism students will invite three Buddhist children each to attend a Mid-autumn ceremony held at the church on Oct. 1.
Michael Nguyen Dinh Thanh, head of altar boys from Phu Cam Parish, said they performed lion dances for child patients from Hue Central Hospital.
Father Ho said his group also provided over 1,000 gifts for children from poor families in the districts of A Luoi, Huong Tra and Quang Dien which had been severely hit by Tropical Storm Noul.