X
UCA News

Vietnam

Priests must know their sheep as pandemic wreaks mental havoc

The Catholic parish system facilitates providing support for one another during these difficult times

Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Kham

Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Kham

Published: October 05, 2021 03:55 AM GMT

Updated: October 05, 2021 03:56 AM GMT

Priests must know their sheep as pandemic wreaks mental havoc

A zero-dong shop run by Catholics in My Tho in southern Vietnam offers free vegetables and fruits to people affected by Covid-19. (Photo courtesy of giaophanmytho.net)

Tourism is one of Thailand's main economic resources. For example, in 2019, the Buddhist country attracted 40 million tourists, contributing one fifth of its gross domestic product.

Since Thailand went into lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic in March last year, the tourism industry has also closed down, leaving hundreds of thousands of people working as tour guides and in other tourism-related jobs unemployed and without income. They have had to live off humanitarian aid from the government and charities.

The prolonged economic deprivation has led to mental breakdowns and serious despair. In the southern city of Hat Yai alone, on the border with Malaysia, nine registered tour guides have committed suicide.

Obviously, it's not just tour guides in Hat Yai and workers in the tourism industry who have committed suicide, but the number is a clear illustration to look at the whole society and assess the pandemic's negative impact on people's lives.

Although there are no official statistics on suicide in Vietnam, I have heard some priests in Saigon talk about this issue.

Often suicide is just the last step; before that people have had to constantly battle with psychological trauma such as anxiety, fear, disappointment, depression, loneliness, despair and feelings of being abandoned. These are what pastors should be concerned about.

What can we do? Catholics obviously have a firm spiritual foundation that is their trust in divine providence and love

This important fact helps us to have a broader view of the grave dangers caused by the pandemic. Naturally, in the media as well as in everyday conversation, we talk a lot about the physical dangers of the disease: the number of infections and fatalities per day, the difficulties in movement, business and shopping.

We also discuss effective means of fighting against the contagion such as social distancing, lockdowns, masks, disinfection, health declarations and vaccinations.

Few people seem to pay much attention to the psychological problems that the pandemic and anti-coronavirus measures can create for people's personal and family lives.

Therefore, it is necessary to have a comprehensive vision of psychological, spiritual and social aspects of life, not one solely focused on physical and medical issues. That is a big challenge for everyone, but recognizing the problem is a key step in coming up with solutions.

Thank you. You are now signed up to Daily newsletter

Catholics are not excluded from the dangerous pandemic situation. Along with other people, they encounter numerous difficulties such as unemployment, deprivation and poverty. What can we do? Catholics obviously have a firm spiritual foundation that is their trust in divine providence and love.

However, I would like to mention another great advantage — the parish system. Whether in the city or in the countryside, Catholics belong to parishes, and in each parish they know one another well, especially in Catholic-dominant areas. They can provide material and emotional support for one another in difficult times.

Priests occupy fundamental roles in parishes. This is the time they perform their pastoral function: "I know my sheep and my sheep know me."

They should know where the sheep are, what their living conditions are, good or poor, healthy or sick. They know their sheep by meeting them, visiting their homes and, especially in the situation of being separated, using media to ask after them.

Knowing the sheep is to build communion in the parish family — for example, gathering to pray together at the same time of the day

They need to know their sheep to find ways to walk with, share, support and encourage them. If they have a lot to do, they could invite others to work with them.

Knowing the sheep is to build communion in the parish family — for example, gathering to pray together at the same time of the day, working with one another to help families in need, and offering useful advice to Covid-19 victims online or over the phone.

St. John said: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." The first step of the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption is that God comes to be with us. The fundamental step of the ministry is also to be with, to be present and to share. This is the time when the ministry-to-be-with is urgently needed.

Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Kham of My Tho serves as secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News. This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published on giaophanmytho.net here.

Also Read

 
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia