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Vietnamese Catholics keep faith amid change

Living a good life makes people happy, not wealth, says Redemptorist priest
Vietnamese Catholics keep faith amid change

Vietnamese people dine under an altar of God and saints at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo by Mary Nguyen/ucanews.com)

ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam
September 14, 2018
Catholic Peter Bui starts his working day by praying for trade to be good and switching on the lights of an altar in his shop in Vietnam's bustling Ho Chi Minh City.

Bui has traded in doors, paints, locks, tools and home accessories for 20 years. On Sundays he closes the shop to spend time with his family and attend Mass.

He sells genuine goods in busy Tan Binh Market in the southern city at the right price. "We offer customers helpful advice and a range of choices to buy goods suitable for their needs," the 57-year-old trader said.

Traders from other places only live temporarily in the area and do not have the same affectionate neighbourhood bonds. When a poor woman nearby needed a lock, Bui visited her home to make sure she got the right type.

He tries to establish values of justice and fairness in relationships with his neighbors, many of whom are sex workers, gangsters and gamblers.

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"We manage to give no money to gangsters who ask for protection payments, but we offer money to their families when they have accidents or get sick," he said.

He reminds customers about money owing to him even though some of his relatives are too afraid to do so.

Bui, who has a loud and clear voice, said he tries to deal with conflicts in a frank and fraternal manner. One customer tried to return a pot of paint but Bui refused to exchange it as the paint was no longer saleable.

When the customer shouted at him and threatened to throw the paint in his face, other customers protected him. However, the irate customer returned to buy goods from his shop a month later.

"Many customers gradually respect and acknowledge our sincerity, justice, equality, charity and fraternity," Bui said.

The father of three said his aim was to build bridges with other people and to bring the Good News of Christianity to them.

He allows a woman to sell food outside his shop. The woman, who divorced her husband and lives with her boyfriend, cruelly beat her 5-year-old daughter in front of his shocked daughter. "I asked her not to hit her daughter, who is innocent, and I still let my daughter play with hers," he said.

Bui, who teaches catechism classes, said he lives out Catholic values of holiness and attends weekend courses on church social teachings conducted by local priests. He said these teachings are a treasure of wisdom about building a just society amid the challenges of modernity.

Redemptorist Father Joseph Le Quang Uy, who has established a Catholic family and youth groups, said lay people need priests to help them practice their faith in daily life.

Father Uy said he teaches his laity not to cheat or bribe people, indulge in alcohol or drop litter. He also urges churchgoers to obey traffic regulations and reduce environmental pollution by switching off their motorbikes at red lights and collecting garbage from public places.

The priest holds regular retreats and prayers as well as leading the faithful to aid the poor, sick and victims of natural disasters.

He said members of his family and youth groups live a good life, working hard and treating people with love and fairness.

The headmistress of a daycare facility treats other teachers as her relatives and allows single mothers to use her center at night to meet in and pray. A 20-year-old nurse spends time after work comforting hospital patients.

Father Uy said 40 couples, who are members of his groups, have happy marriages.

"Being a Catholic in a society where morality is declining, and materialism prevails, means speaking out against injustice and doing good deeds to reduce bad things," Father Uy said.

The priest stressed that it is important for Catholics to set shining examples for other people, including communists.

Father Uy baptized To Hai, a famous composer and former Communist Party member, in 2014 when he was 87 years old. To Hai converted to Catholicism after he attended a funeral Mass conducted by Redemptorists for a converted prisoner of conscience.

To be happy is to live a good life in all circumstances, not to have money and comforts, Father Uy said.

Vietnam has seven million Catholics among a total population of 94 million.

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