Father Martin Tran Dinh Khiem Ai gives free food to a woman in Tan Phu Trung Parish in Ho Chi Minh City on April 11. Catholics in Vietnam are being urged to those who have been impoverished by the Covid-19 pandemic. (UCA News photo)
The head of Vietnamese bishops has urged Catholics and people of other faiths to take initiatives to feed people affected by Covid-19.
Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Minh, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, said the deadly pandemic is spreading like a flash of lightning across the world, killing about 120,000 people and infecting nearly two million including state leaders, health workers, visitors, religious dignitaries, students, business people, workers and farmers.
Archbishop Linh said millions have lost their jobs and been deeply distressed. Low-income earners including ticket sellers, street vendors, used item collectors, drivers, motorbike taxi drivers and workers are suffering starvation. “How can they survive the indefinite pandemic?” he asked.
On April 10, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to offer 500,000 dong to 1 million dong (US$21-42) to people affected by the Covid-19 crisis. About 20 million people are expected to receive the handout.
Archbishop Linh said people from all walks of life have taken part in the fight against Covid-19 since it broke out in Wuhan, China, last December.
He said the fight is not only how to kill the coronavirus but also how to protect victims of the pandemic. “It is only love that can stem the coronavirus spread and bring hope to win,” he said.
In a message issued on April 10, the archbishop called on Catholics and others to do what they can to help those affected by the pandemic. “Numberless miserable people around you await your response,” he said.
He urged people to follow the good examples of two men who offer free food to people in need in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Hoang Tuan Anh, 35, invented a rice machine that operates like an ATM in Ho Chi Minh City. People only need to press a button to receive 1.5 kilograms of uncooked rice. They wait their turn in line on designated markers placed two meters apart in line with social distancing.
The machine, which runs around the clock, supplies 4 tonnes of rice daily to 3,000 people in need. Other people appreciate Anh’s work and supply rice for the machine.
Many other rice machines will be installed around Vietnam to serve the poor, according to media reports.
Archbishop Linh said such initiatives can help Vietnam to become a nation of humanity and charity. He asked all people to work with one another to save those who suffer most regardless of their background.
Father Joseph Mary Le Quoc Thang, pastor of Tan Phu Trung Parish in Ho Chi Minh City, said many benefactors have donated money and basic supplies for weeks.
“I am deeply moved by the fact that some give me 100,000 dong or others donate milk and money that they have been given after blood donations at other places,” he said.
The priest said his parish, which has more than 5,000 members, has given instant noodles, rice, cooking oil and other food to 500 people. Those with big families are offered more.
Father Thang, who serves as secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, said 100 volunteers arrange gifts and take them to people cannot receive them at the parish church.
He said the parish is home to many migrant workers, used item collectors, lottery ticket sellers, vendors and small business owners. They have lost their income but still have to pay rent and cover daily expenses.
“The pandemic is an opportunity for people to look back on their life and experience God’s presence and love in their life. It is a time to promote solidarity and charity among us so that we work together to overcome the crisis,” Father Thang said.
Nguyen Thi Le, 62, from Quang Ngai province, said she was deeply grateful to Catholics who offered her food even though she is a Buddhist.
She collects used items for a living and shares a room with other people. “I have only two meals a day because I earn only 30,000 dong per day,” she said, adding that she used to earn 100,000 dong.