Father Joseph Pham Ba Lam blesses food at Hoa Hung Church on Feb. 6 in Ho Chi Minh City (Photo: UCA News)
Catholics across Vietnam are caring for people in need by offering them food for their lunar new year celebrations.
On the early morning of Feb. 6, Father Joseph Pham Ba Lam, Hoa Hung parish priest, blessed 300 gifts in the churchyard before Caritas workers distributed them by motorbike to people in difficult circumstances in Ho Chi Minh City.
Mary Dang Thi Thuy Oanh, head of Caritas in the parish, said each gift includes pickles, pork and banh chung, a square sticky rice cake made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and other ingredients. Banh chung is a must-have in the Tet festival.
Oanh, 65, said the cost is met from donations made by benefactors and Caritas’ fundraising events.
“We offer the poor small gifts but it is important that we do want to show our loving care to them on the national Tet festival,” she said, adding that all people should have enough food during the festival.
An ethnic Khmer, Thach Tam, who lives nearby the church, said he feels luckier than others as “I am given food for the Tet festival by Catholics.”
“I have enough food to welcome Tet with my friends. I am deeply grateful to the parish for its generous help,” he said.
He is among 150 people who each receive instant noodles, fish sauce, oil for cooking, sugar and 10 kilograms of rice every two months by the parish.
Tam, 69, who lives alone and is in poor health, said he lives on monthly allowances from the government.
Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Sister Nguyen Ngoc Trinh, head of Ai Linh Love School, said she offered 420 banh chung to students from poor families, staff members and poor families around the school.
Sister Trinh said she provides these donations while volunteers and students give the traditional cake.
“Banh chung is traditionally considered a symbol of well-being and unity on the lunar new year, but many students' families and migrants cannot afford banh chung,” explained the nun, who initiated the Banh Chung-Sharing Love Program for the poor last year.
“The gift is a sense of love we spread to other people. It is truly amazing to see our students offer banh chung to poor families. That is a lesson of sharing and caring,” the 39-year-old nun said.
Father Joseph Nguyen Huu Triet, Tan Sa Chau parish priest, said he established a leaf shop serving confectionery and fruits in the church’s yard. People eat food and drink tea, and put as much money as they can into piggy banks to provide food for poor people.
The priest said on Feb. 10 the parish used the donation to buy rice, pork and others for 250 people in need.
Anna Hoang Thi Hanh, who took her son to the shop and showed him how to put notes into a piggy bank, said: “I am interested in the parish’s initiative and taught my son lessons of charity and sharing with people in need on the Tet festival.”
Hanh said her parish collected used items and sold them to offer basic food to migrant workers and those who are badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Caritas in Ha Tinh Diocese provided clothes, milk, cake and shoes to 800 students, plus blankets and mosquito nets to 200 families who lost their properties in the flooding last year.
Jesuits and sisters from two other congregations covered the cost of transporting many cancer patients from Ho Chi Minh City to their homes in Ca Mau province in the Mekong Delta so that they can celebrate the Tet festival with their families. Students from indigenous groups were also taken home to welcome the lunar new year.
Local Jesuits worked with other sisters to hold year-end meals for elderly people without relatives in Bui Chu Diocese and offer gifts to Hmong ethnic students in remote areas in Hung Hoa Diocese. They also cooperated with Christians to install a three-kilometer water supply system for Van Kieu ethnic villagers in Quang Tri province.
Cecilia Tran Thi Thanh Uyen, who is active in charitable work, said the Tet festival is a good opportunity for Catholics to foster a culture of care by visiting and sharing what they have with the disadvantaged.
She said that by tradition people try to have enough food and feel comfortable on the Tet holidays as good signs for the new year.