Marie Le Tran Thuy Vi offers food to Doan Quang Ti in his wheelchair in Ho Chi Minh City on April 29. (Photo: UCA News)
Marie Le Tran Thuy Vi and her friends prepare, cook and pack food into boxes at Phu Trung Church. They don face masks, mount their motorbikes and carry boxes of food to hand out to poor people waiting for meals on the sidewalks in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
“We bring you food for dinner,” Vi says with a smile as she offers a box of food to a homeless woman.
Her group with 10 youths hand out 150-175 servings within 45 minutes each night. Recipients include homeless people, lottery ticket sellers, guards, motorbike taxi drivers and street cleaners.
“We are very happy to serve free dinners to people in need and help them overcome the Covid-19 pandemic,” the graduate in pedagogy said. “We are grateful to them as God sends them to us so that we can do something helpful for them.”
Vi, 22, said the pandemic is a good chance for Catholic youths to live out the spirit of love and charity with concrete work. She appreciates her parish’s food campaign for the poor affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Mary Tran Thi My received a box of food from Vi with gratitude while sitting by her ramshackle bicycle on the pavement.
“I have lived on food from them for days and feel a grain of comfort in the pandemic,” said the 57-year-old woman, who has slept on the sidewalk for 15 years. In the past, she earned 100,000 dong (US$4.30) by collecting used items.
Another happy recipient, Ho Thanh Chi, said she and seven other women daily wait for food from the group. Chi, who trades in used items for a living, said her family have no money to buy food as her husband and son lost their jobs due to the pandemic. They share a 12-square-meter room and pay 1.5 million dong rent per month.
She asked for two rations for her three-member family. “We have never suffered such a situation. We hope the pandemic ends soon,” she said.
Doan Quang Ti, who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, says he is very hungry and will only have this one meal today. Although he is a Buddhist, he regularly prays in front of a Marian grotto. “I am grateful to the Catholics who have given me material support for years.” He moved to the city 30 years ago.
Father Martin Tran Dinh Khiem Ai, assistant priest of Phu Trung Parish, said they have been serving dinners to 400 people on the streets each day since early April.
Father Ai, 42, said many benefactors donate money, rice, meat, vegetables and other things to the parish. Parents of catechism students volunteer to prepare dinners from 1pm to 6pm while young Catholics in five groups transport and offer meals to poor people in the biggest city’s six districts. Volunteers finish their work at 10pm.
The priest said each ration includes rice, vegetables, soup, meat or fish and one bottle of water, costing 20,000 dong.
“The pandemic provides a good opportunity for local Catholics to work together and to serve the poor in the hard time,” he said.
Joaquin Tran Hung Hai Du, who works in the food trade, said his home parish of Xom Chieu daily provides two tonnes of rice to poor people. The parish is home to many people who do manual work for a living and are hit hard by the coronavirus.
Each recipient gets two kilograms of rice, eggs, sugar, milk, vegetables and other things supplied by benefactors. His group also offers 1,200 vegetarian rations to people on the streets each day.
“They feel love, dignity and respect from the parish. Serving other people is our joy. We are happy to journey with them in this hard time,” Du said.
Vi said the Covid-19 pandemic is a grave crisis but has also opened young people’s hearts, inducing them to return to core values and to spend more time doing charitable work and serving the common good in line with local bishops’ proposals for youths.
Vietnamese bishops have created youth ministry programs for the coming three years: journeying with youths towards their holistic maturation, in their family life as well as their church and social life.
“I hope many young people will find value in life and commit themselves to building a better society,” Vi said.