The true spirit of Christmas is celebrated in a remote region where people suffer poverty and hardship
Hmong Catholics watch a Christmas play performed by visiting students at Ngon Lanh Church on Dec. 21. (ucanews photo)
Catholic students in northern Vietnam have cheered ethnic Hmong villagers who suffer poverty and severe weather by celebrating Christmas with them.
Some 20 college students from Ha Nam province visited Ngon Lanh Sub-parish's 160 Hmong Catholics at Nam Lanh Commune in Yen Bai province’s Van Chan district on Dec. 21-22. It took them 10 hours to travel by bus on mountainous roads.
They offered villagers books, notebooks, clothes, instant noodles, cooking oil, salt and 800 kilograms of rice.
“We wanted to help them overcome lack of food and cold weather in the mountainous area and celebrate Christmas and New Year,” Joseph Tran Quang Tam told ucanews.
“It was important to show them that the birth of Jesus is a priceless gift God offers all mankind. Following Jesus, we and the villagers shared love, meals, Mass and outdoor activities with one another.”
Tam said his group had to save up for months to share love with people in need. Some went without breakfast so that they could donate more to the Hmong villagers.
Visiting students in groups played traditional games with children, prepared meals to treat villagers, cut people’s hair, performed Christmas plays and sang carols at the sub-parish church. Visitors and villagers danced around a log fire after attending a special Mass conducted by visiting Father Anthony Nguyen Tan Hoi from Sung Do Parish.
Students also visited families and consoled them with words of encouragement and gifts.
Tam said many students who visited the area for the first time were “moved to tears as they see Hmong children go barefoot and wear ragged clothes in a temperature of 10 degrees.”
He said they experienced the poverty of villagers who live a simple life in leaf and wooden houses and decorate their church with a small nativity scene costing 400,000 dong (US$18) while nativity scenes at churches in other places cost hundreds of million dong.
Hmong children play a game with visiting students in front of Ngon Lanh Church. (ucanews photo)
Mary Nguyen Huyen Trang, a student at the Medical University in Hanoi, said she appreciated Hmong Catholics who live in poverty but remain loyal to the Catholic faith and lead a true life.
“The visit gives me an opportunity to experience hardships in winter, strengthen my faith and encourage me to do something helpful for my brothers and sisters in remote areas,” Trang said.
Joseph Mua Vang Sang, head of the sub-parish council, said: “We are grateful to the visitors who held Christmas celebrations for us. We feel warm and learn the meaning of Christmas that is to share love and brotherhood with one another.”
Mary Mua Thi Vang, 15, who finished seventh grade and dropped out of school to work, said: “This is the first time I have watched a Christmas play. I find that the Holy Family lived in poverty as we do now.”
“Jesus cares for our small community in this remote area this Christmas by sending the visitors to us. I feel happy with this event, which heats up the cold weather here.”
Joseph Mua A Chua, 35, a lay leader, said villagers have no regular jobs and little farmland, while their cattle die from severe weather and diseases. Families have 5-10 children each and suffer a lack of food throughout the year.
The father of five said young people seek jobs in other places and return home for the Lunar New Year in late January.
Ngon Lanh Subparish was formed in the early 1980s after two Hong families converted to Catholicism. The number of Catholics has increased thanks to their endless efforts to introduce the faith to their relatives and other villagers. Some 100 Hmong people from the neighboring district of Mu Cang Chai, where government authorities recognized no religion, have been baptized in recent years.
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