Vietnamese sisters bring Christmas gifts to COVID and flood victims

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Sister Anna Vo Thi Ngoi Khen (second from left) and worshipers of other faiths stand in front of a large nativity scene December 12 at her convent in Thua Thien Hue province. (Joachim Pham)

Hue, Vietnam — As residents of the region are beset by devastating floods and the effects of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, sisters at the Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation Convent in Tien Thanh thought the crèches would help bring joy and hope to the people of the region in the midst of difficulties. .

Seven sisters and some young people from the region have created more than 60 crèches since the beginning of Advent from November 28 to December 11. The nativity scenes, approximately 30 inches by 27 inches, are made of cardboard boxes, thick paper, bamboo and Christmas decorations, and include nativity figurines.

“We gave all these nativity scenes to poor families, elderly people without parents and patients as Christmas gifts to console them and bring them Christmas joy,” said Sr. Anna Vo Thi Ngoi Khen, head of the convent. based in Kim Doi. Parish of the central province of Thua Thien Hue.

Families also received 200,000 dong (about $9) for basic food to celebrate the upcoming Christmas, Khen said.

The parish serves 500 Catholics among a population of 7,000. Restrictions to isolate villages infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the region were lifted on November 20.

The nun said the local people have been extremely depressed by the prolonged pandemic and the floods that destroyed their crops and homes in late November, and as a result many of them are beginning to ignore their religious life. They fear not having a job and the difficulties that the next year might bring.

“Crèches are absolutely essential to local Catholic families during the Christmas season as they connect the material and spiritual worlds. However, this year many are feeling down and not interested in doing Crèches. Christmas spirit,” the 46-year-old nun said.

Anna Nguyen Thi Hoa, 84, said her granddaughter from Da Nang died of COVID-19 in 2020. She lives with her grandson, who is not Catholic, in a 400 square foot house provided by benefactors.

“We are really delighted to have a nativity scene by the nuns, which brings a Christmas atmosphere to our house,” Hoa said. The care of the sisters and the reminder of Christmas alleviate some of her grief for her deceased relative.

She said she also received food and money from the nuns.

People sell fish for a living in cold weather at Dong Ba market in Hue.  (Joachim Pham)

People sell fish for a living in cold weather at Dong Ba market in Hue. (Joachim Pham)

Khen said many villagers couldn’t find jobs in Hue and had only two simple meals a day. The sister said the nuns provide rice, bread, fish, meat, vegetables and milk to people in need.

Anna Tran Thi Tuyen from Van Quat village said November floods washed away all the fish on her farm and destroyed more than 37 pounds of rice. She and her husband have to sell duck eggs and dumplings all day to support their three children.

Tuyen said they don’t have time to make nativity scenes at home to celebrate the upcoming Christmas like they did in the past. “We gratefully receive a nativity scene from the nuns. It is a generous gift for us this Christmas,” she said.

The nuns of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation also held a special gathering for 36 single pregnant women on December 10 at their Thien Xuan convent in Luong Van parish in Phu Vang district.

Two young nuns from the Missionaries of Charity of Vinh feed an elderly woman and her son in Ha Tinh province on December 12.  (Courtesy of Teresa Tran Thi Oanh)

Two young nuns from the Missionaries of Charity of Vinh feed an elderly woman and her son in Ha Tinh province on December 12. (Courtesy of Teresa Tran Thi Oanh)

Sister Mary Bui Thi Vinh, head of the convent, said attendees prayed with candles in their hands, listened to a passage from the Bible, sang Christmas carols, received Christmas gifts and enjoyed a hearty meal. Gifts including cash, medical oil, clothes and shampoos costing 2.5 million VND (about $109) each.

Vinh said donations come from benefactors and families whose members have joined the congregation.

The pregnant women, who live with their families, are part of the Hope Group, created in 2016 by the nuns. Members meet monthly at the convent to share their joy and sadness and help each other overcome challenges.

“The gathering is an opportunity for these women, mostly Buddhists and followers of other indigenous religions, to understand the meaning of Christmas and to relate to Catholicism,” she said, adding that the joy of Christmas will give them the emotional strength to overcome the negative effects of the pandemic.

The nuns began working among the local population in 2015, visiting and offering material support, offering scholarships and providing health care for the elderly. They also provide pregnant teenagers with housing, food and health care until birth to prevent them from aborting.

In previous Advents, the nuns took members of the Hope group to visit and offer incense at the Ngoc Hoi cemetery, where 45,000 aborted fetuses were buried. They also made pilgrimages to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Quang Tri province. This year, they could not do such tours, to avoid COVID-19 infections.

Nuns and young Catholics from the Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation offer a nativity scene to Anna Nguyen Thi Hoa, 84, at her home.  (Joachim Pham)

Nuns and young Catholics from the Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation offer a nativity scene to Anna Nguyen Thi Hoa, 84, at her home. (Joachim Pham)

A Buddhist attendee whose surname is Hoang said she felt the warm atmosphere of the coming Christmas. “The gathering is a chance for us to meet each other and maintain the fellowship between us. We really appreciate all the help the nuns have given us,” she said.

Vinh, 53, said 18 more people, including five women in the group, have embraced Catholicism since the nuns began serving in the parish.

Flooding has been a major problem in some areas, said Missionaries of Charity of Vinh Sr. Teresa Tran Thi Oanh of Ninh Cuong community based in Huong Khe district of Ha Tinh province. The local population lacks drinking water after floods destroyed the region’s water supply systems in late November. The poor have to use the polluted flood waters because they have no money to buy clean water, she added.

“We produce 50 to 100 bottles of drinking water daily, 20 liters each, and deliver free to people in need, regardless of origin,” Oanh said.

The 36-year-old nun said the sisters used motorbikes to bring water to the elderly and physically disabled.

On Saturdays this Advent, the community of five nuns and four novices visit and offer food to 50 families whose members live with mental disabilities, she said. Most of the patients have mental disorders at birth and their parents have been in the army. Families are facing starvation as the COVID-19 pandemic has left loved ones unemployed for months and other charity groups unable to offer them donations.

A particularly painful case involves a 70-year-old woman caring for her three adult children, who have mental disabilities.

“Many shed tears of happiness when we visit them and deliver food to them. They feel the warmth and love of Christmas in this cold winter,” she said, adding that the nuns will continue to visit them after Christmas.

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