Father Francis Xavie Tran Vuong Quoc Minh (center) visits Van Kieu ethnic villagers in Huong Hoa district on Oct. 23. (Photo: UCA News)
The tropical storm Vamco that hit Vietnam’s central provinces on Nov. 15 destroyed 15 houses, killed 2,200 cattle and poultry and damaged 10 hectares of crops in Hamlet 8, which is home to the Van Kieu ethnic people in Quang Tri province’s Huong Hoa district.
Hamlet head Anthony Ho Duoc rushed to meet Father Francis Xavie Tran Vuong Quoc Minh to ask for his support.
“He immediately offered us emergency aid and money to repair our houses and to buy piglets, young goats and sugar cane and pepper seedlings to grow for a living,” said Duoc, who was given 80 kilograms of rice and 4 million dong (US$172).
The roof of his house was blown off and five pigs died during the strong storm. The pigs cost an estimated 25 million dong ($1,100) each.
He said local people were given food for three months until they harvest crops early next year.
“Father Minh is really our lifesaver. We wouldn’t know how to make a living in the aftermath of the storm without his help,” the 51-year-old father of four said.
Duoc said half of the hamlet’s 185 Van Kieu ethnic people have embraced Catholicism since they met the priest seven years ago.
Father Minh serves as pastor of Khe Sanh Parish, which is 12 kilometers away from the hamlet.
Ho Luong, a village elder, said local people treat Father Minh like another village elder for his love and care for them.
“We always invite him to attend our harvest festivals because we now have food and houses thanks to his generosity,” the 65-year-old man said.
He said seven years ago a strong storm causing severe floods washed away all their houses and farms. They were starving and exposed to the elements. Many people looked for food in forests while others walked 12km to Khe Sanh Parish to beg for food.
“Father Minh and local parishioners opened the church and welcomed us even though we were complete strangers to them,” Luong said. They were given food, water and medicine.
He told UCA News that since then they have had good relations with the priest.
Father Minh said at that time he moved the Eucharist from the church to another place and allowed the natural disaster victims to rest in the church and parish house. He and other people prepared and served them food.
He also provided food, medicine, clothes, mosquito nets and blankets for them to return home after they stayed at the church for ten days.
“I found that their unexpected visit was a sign of God who wanted me to give love care to them,” the 50-year-old priest said, adding that he and other Catholics visited their hamlet and managed to support them.
Father Minh, who was assigned to the parish in 2012, called on people to provide more food and building materials for the Van Kieu people to build new houses. In the past local people erected leaf and bamboo houses.
He also offered them money to raise cattle and poultry and grow crops to restore their livelihood.
Father Minh said Van Kieu ethnic villagers live a simple life, are very hospitable to visitors and see him as their family member.
The Quang Tri native priest said most local people grow crops and raise cattle for a living and lack food as drought, floods and tropical storms regularly cause bad harvests. They invite shamans to cure patients instead of taking them to hospitals. Many abuse alcohol and believe in superstitions.
He builds cement roads linking villages, hundreds of houses for local people and two houses for people to avoid floods and storms.
The priest, also a pharmacist, offers free medicine to those who suffer diarrhea, flu, high blood pressure, fever and itch, and uses his car to carry patients to hospitals in Hue city, some 160km away from the parish.
Ho A Khuong, a Van Kieu whose wife suffered pneumonia last month, said he rode a motorbike from his home in Laos’ Savannakhet province to meet Father Minh, who offered him money to hospitalize his wife at a hospital in Dong Ha city.
Khuong, 34, said Father Minh looked after his three children for three months while he was caring for his ailing wife at a local hospital in 2017. His friends introduced him to the priest.
The priest said in 2018 a pregnant couple knocked on his door at midnight for help. He drove the pregnant woman and her husband to the hospital in Dong Ha city, 80km away, to give birth.
He welcomes some 1,500 ethnic people to his church on Christmas and Easter. They attend celebrations, have meals and get gifts.
“Serving people in need is the best way to introduce the religion of love to other people, especially ethnic villagers who live an honest life,” Father Minh said, adding that some 150-200 ethnic people are baptized each year.
He said those who live in remote areas 40-70km away from the church could not go to church on Sundays on a regular basis, and patients and elderly people die without receiving last rites.
“I gather patients, the aged and those live far away at the church and administer the last rites to them every six months,” he said.
Father Minh serves the parishes of Khe Sanh and Ba Long in the two districts of Da Krong and Huong Hoa. The two parishes have 2,600 Catholics among a population of 135,000 including 50,000 Van Kieu ethnic people.