Vietnamese bishop: Plan for charity this Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year festival in Saigon, Vietnam. Credit: Saigoneer / Shutterstock.

Inspired by Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace, a Vietnamese bishop is encouraging Catholics to establish an action plan to serve people in need during the Lunar New Year. 

Bishop Stephanus Tri Buu Thien of Can Tho, a diocese in southern Vietnam, asked parishioners to offer prayers and humanitarian relief to those in poverty. 

According to UCA News, the bishop said many local Catholics are struggling financially because of the pandemic. He urged parishioners, even those who have been affected by COVID-19, to imitate the Good Samaritan and provide aid to their neighbors in poverty. 

Thien is the head of the country’s interfaith dialogue ministry. He asked local priests and religious to establish education programs to help lay people implement a “culture of care” in their daily life. Such programs, he suggested, could teach individuals to become financially stable and take responsibility for their families’ well-being. He asked priests to document and report to him the result of their efforts after the Lunar New Year festival.

The festival is also known as Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day.” 

Taking place from Feb. 10-16, the eight-day festival is a major holiday for numerous Asian countries. The celebration is broken up into three sections: Tất Niên, the “Reunion Dinner” before New Year’s Eve; Giao Thừa, New Year’s Eve; and Tân Niên, the New Year. The holiday is based on the lunisolar calendar and celebrates the arrival of spring. 

Thien said he was inspired by Pope Francis’ Dec. 17 address for the World Day of Peace.He reiterated the importance of the pope’s message and emphasized the value of building a fraternal society and combatting a culture of waste.

“The culture of care … calls for a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance. As such, it represents a privileged path to peace,” said Pope Francis in his address. 

Bishop Thien also encouraged lay Catholics to minimize this year's festivities so as to help serve those with less. Instead of participating in extravagant parties, he said, parishioners could consider donating the funds that would have gone to such celebrations to a charitable cause, like funeral ministries. 

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Members of the diocese have already begun to implement similar initiatives. On Jan. 3, parishes in the provinces of  Hau Giang and Ca Mau opened shops for poor families to access discounted food, clothes, and other basic necessities. There, the beneficiaries were also offered a free meal and hair cut. 

In his address for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis said Catholics have provided for other members of the Body of Christ since the early days of Christianity. He said it was common for Christians to donate to the poor and care for the dead as well as support orphans, the elderly, and victims of a disaster. 

The pope said these types of charitable works will further a culture of life and promote peace and goodwill. He encouraged everyone to use these works of mercy as a compass. 

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“[The early Christians] strove to make their community a welcoming home, concerned for every human need and ready to care for those most in need,” he said. 

“This will enable us to esteem the value and dignity of every person, to act together in solidarity for the common good, and to bring relief to those suffering from poverty, disease, slavery, armed conflicts, and discrimination.” 

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