Catholics offer food to people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in Ho Chi Minh City in April. (Photo: UCA News)
The pontifical representative to Vietnam has expressed his solidarity with and gratitude to local Catholics for their charitable work for those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Archbishop Marek Zalewski, non-resident representative of the Holy See to Vietnam, said he had not been able to visit the country since his visit to Hue Archdiocese to launch the jubilee of the 170th anniversary of its establishment in early January.
He said the suspension of flights from Singapore had limited his physical presence among local Catholics “but did not completely restrict me from my mission. I always exchange information with you, I listen to your concerns and continue to serve the needs of the Church in Vietnam. We are in communion.”
He also had to cancel his planned pastoral visits to Ha Tinh, Qui Nhon and Thanh Hoa dioceses as well as plans to mark Pope Francis’ election anniversary with a liturgical celebration in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Archbishop Zalewski, based in Singapore, said church leaders from Vietnam had told him about local Catholics’ practical experience in dealing with the pandemic.
The Southeast Asian country suffered three outbreaks of the coronavirus in January, March and late July with 964 confirmed cases including 24 deaths so far.
The Polish diplomat said he learned that the local Church had launched many charitable projects to sustain the lives of those who were left jobless by the lockdown, providing food for street vendors and creating new paths for migrant workers who got cut off from work.
“All of these good deeds you have done, individually or constitutionally, for the least among you have been counted in the sight of Christ, who came to save humankind,” he said in an open letter to the local Church on Aug. 15.
He said the letter serves as a mean to communicate with local Catholics his fraternal support and ecclesiastical unity during this time of difficulty and anxiety.
“Encouraged by your wisdom and apostolic zeal, I am writing to you because I want to keep myself close to you, leaders of the Church in Vietnam, and accompany you and all Catholics and people of Vietnam along the way,” he said.
Archbishop Zalewski also reminded Catholics not to lose the enthusiasm of faith and evangelical hope.
“I renew to each of you my deep appreciation for what you have done in this complex situation. May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Blessed Virgin, whose Assumption into Heaven we commemorate today, watch over you always,” he concluded.
Father Joseph Nguyen Tien Lien, pastor of Mai Yen with 1,600 Catholics in the mountainous province of Son La, said he was moved by the letter of the pontifical representative and felt his great love and care for the local Church during the pandemic.
“His words of encouragement give me strength to reach out to local people in need,” Father Lien said.
The priest provides pastoral activities for Catholic communities, promotes evangelization among ethnic minority villagers and offers material support to victims of natural disasters and those affected by Covid-19. Catholics also provide free food to 700 poor patients at hospitals each week.