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Vietnam Catholics bring ‘Tet’ joy to people in need

Catholic families save money to enable people celebrate the Tết or Lunar New Year festival that falls on Jan 22-24

Vietnamese people are given pork and sticky rice at Dien Loc church on Jan 15

Vietnamese people are given pork and sticky rice at Dien Loc church on Jan 15. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: January 19, 2023 12:14 PM GMT

Updated: January 19, 2023 12:16 PM GMT

Amid cold weather, Tran Thi Nuong wraps herself in three sets of clothes as she prepares sweet potatoes and cassava at 4 am to sell at a rural market.

“It is bitterly cold so only some people get my food. I can only earn 20,000 dong [85 cents] per day, but I have to work to buy food for my family to celebrate the Tết festival," Nuong said, her voice trembling due to the cold.

The farmer from Trieu Phong district of Quang Tri province has to support her 90-year-old mother and grandson who suffers from epilepsy. Her son works in Laos and her daughter, 17, dropped out of school and works at the market to put food on the table.

The 54-year-old mother of two said she could not grow rice on her 7,000-square-meter field which is still flooded by unseasonal heavy rains.

She said hundreds of local farmers in low-lying areas have abandoned their fields due to the extreme weather and high-cost prices of petrol, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Other people said the prolonged spell of wet and cold weather that hit the area in early December has killed tens of cattle, which are a coveted possession for farmers who use them to transport building materials, fertilizers, and agricultural products and to pull plows.

They said some people died while working in chilly weather.

“We have been living on 10 kilograms of rice per month given by local Catholics since last November. We would not know how to live without food,” Nuong, a Buddhist, said.

She said people like her were “only too delighted to receive money, rice, cakes, tea and oil cooking for the festival from the parish.”

Some 150 families regardless of their backgrounds were given the gifts on Jan 19.

Jacob Dang Phuoc Thanh, who is in charge of the parish's charity activities, said parishioners also made 300 bánh tét, the traditional sticky rice cake, and offered it to people in need.

Thanh, 60, said they tried to do something useful to ease the plight of local farmers who toil on farms but suffer from famine due to climate change.

He said local people were badly affected by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, severe floods last October, and now terrible weather. They entirely rely on two rice crops per year to survive.

Father Dominic Hoang Duc Nguyen, pastor of Bo Lieu parish with 450 members, said Catholic families saved money by reducing their expenses and putting money into piggy banks in November and December to provide food for people in need to celebrate the Tết or Lunar New Year festival that falls on Jan 22-24.

Vietnamese people will hold the country's biggest traditional holiday on Jan 20-26.

Father Nguyen said poor people will also be served traditional Tết dishes at the church compound on Jan. 24 by local Catholic mothers in an effort to help them celebrate the festival.

Father John Nguyen Chi Huu, pastor of Phuong Dong parish in Phu Loc district of Thua Thien Hue province, said local Catholics offered bánh tét to 80 families whose members suffer from leprosy in Hoa Hiep Nam ward of the neighboring city of Da Nang.

In 2012, leprosy-affected people were forced to leave by local government authorities to enable the construction of resorts in their coastal villages.

Father Huu, who used to provide pastoral care for lepers, said they still suffer in the aftermath of floods and storms last September and live in poverty. Many have to look for jobs in other places and cannot afford to return home during the festival.

“We hope they will have enough food, especially bánh tét to celebrate the Tết festival and will feel comforted to enter a new better year,” he said.

Father Anthony Nguyen Ngoc Ha, director of Caritas in Hue, said Caritas workers provided money, food, and blankets for 120 blind people who could not work in the cold weather.

He said Catholics from Dien Loc parish gave pork and sticky rice to 100 families, most of them Buddhists.

"We try their best to come to the aid of people in need so that all people can have enough food during the annual festival," he said.

During the Tết short for Tết Nguyên Đán festival, people traditionally celebrate a family reunion, pay tribute to ancestors, visit and give gifts to relatives and friends as a way to express their gratitude, and visit churches, pagodas and temples to pray for prosperity in the new year.

Bánh tét is a popular food eaten at the traditional festival.

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