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Vietnam’s ethnic villagers long for Christmas celebrations

Local Catholics pray for their villages to be in peace and reap good harvests

Father Thaddeus Tran Minh Danh offers sweets to Van Kieu villagers in Quang Tri province on Dec 14

Father Thaddeus Tran Minh Danh offers sweets to Van Kieu villagers in Quang Tri province on Dec 14. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: December 21, 2022 08:55 AM GMT

Updated: December 21, 2022 08:56 AM GMT

During Christmas in 2018, Van Kieu ethnic Ho Thi Niu gave birth to her first child by cesarean section at a public hospital, but her family had no money to cover the fees.

Her husband asked for financial help from some Catholic nuns who were visiting and offering Christmas gifts to patients at the hospital in Quang Tri province. The nuns immediately gave them four million dong to go toward the bill.

Niu, whose Christian name is Magdalene, said later they decided to embrace Catholicism as a way to show their deep gratitude to the nuns and seek divine grace in their life.

“We are only too eager to erect nativity scenes at our homes to join other people around the world in marking Jesus’ birthday but we are not allowed,” the 29-year-old mother of two from Khe Cao village of Trieu Nguyen commune in Dakrong district said. The village has 14 Catholic families.

Local people said government authorities force them to be true to the late president, Ho Chi Minh, founder of the country, and his Communist Party. In the past, they were asked to hang Ho’s pictures in their houses.

In 2019, a local family bravely made a creche and a star-shaped lantern and placed them in front of their house to celebrate Christmas. However, they later found them destroyed after they returned from a Christmas Vigil at Ba Long Church, 15 kilometers away from their home.

"Some policemen closely watched the ceremony but refused to attend the Christmas party"

Francis Xavier Ho Sung, head of the Khe Cao mission station, said local people have attended Christmas Masses at their homes for at least two years without nativity scenes. They used a cross and a statue of the Holy Family instead of a creche during the celebrations.

Father Thaddeus Tran Minh Danh from Ba Long sub-parish said he was allowed to celebrate the first Christmas Mass at Sung’s house in 2020 after he tried to build a good relationship with government officials by giving them 200 million dong to dig 25 wells for public use.

Father Danh, 45, who was assigned to the remote sub-parish parish in 2017, said some policemen closely watched the ceremony but refused to attend the Christmas party later held by local people.

The priest, who provided emergency aid for 130 families including authorities’ relatives for months during the Covid-19 pandemic last year, said he started to celebrate Mass at local peoples’ houses in the three mission stations of Ha Vung, Khe Cao and Ta Lung with 120 Catholics on Tuesdays and Fridays in 2021. He also has a few problems with the government.

He said this year’s Christmas Eve will be held at a family’s house at Ta Lung village of Hai Phuc commune on Dec 23. People from other villages will join the annual celebration.

Sung, 51, a former soldier who converted to Catholicism to marry a Catholic woman in 2006, said although ethnic villagers are banned from decorating their houses at Christmas, “we attend Christmas celebrations at Ba Long Church, have that day off and hold parties at homes with other people. We also gather to drink, play folk music and dance around open fires on that day.”

“It is important that local Catholics know how to live out and spread the Christmas message of love"

He said they pray for their villages to be in peace, reap good harvests and especially are allowed to erect creches at their houses on Christmas.

The lay leader said Catholics from the sub-parish make donations during Lent and offer people in need Christmas gifts. This Christmas, they will give blankets to 90 elderly villagers and offer clothes, money and rice to 160 households. These families had their houses and belongings damaged by floods in October.

Our Daughters of Mary of the Visitation Sister Elizabeth Tran Thi Cong, who serves at Ba Long Church, said many Van Kieu ethnic youths visit the church on Christmas Eve, look at nativity scenes, watch cultural performances by ethnic children, listen to carols and receive gifts. Many live long distances from the church.

“We hope they gradually understand Christian mysteries through their culture and our services,” Sister Cong said, adding that the nuns offer basic education and catechism to ethnic children, give them scholarships and visit patients.

“It is important that local Catholics know how to live out and spread the Christmas message of love among other people and that is an effective way to bear witness to the faith of love,” Sung said.

Ba Long sub-parish, established in 2011, serves 182 Catholics out of a population of 45,000. A new church has been under construction and is expected to be completed next year. The church will be the first one built in the mountainous district.

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