Vietnam Jesuit Province Responds to Coronavirus Crisis
Although Vietnam shares a long border with China and has a population of 97 million people, it has recorded only just over 300 cases of COVID 19 and not a single death. The country is praised by global media as one of the most successful countries fighting against COVID 19 despite being less wealthy than other places seen as relatively successful such as Korea and Taiwan. It also becomes the first Southeast Asian country to ease nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Public transport and social distancing restrictions have been eased on May 11. All domestic flights have been resumed while the entry of all foreigners has still been suspended since March 22. Schools across the country reopened on May 4. The government also allows religious organizations to resume normal activities while keeping preventive measures such as wearing face masks and washing hands.
The number of cases in Vietnam is smaller than in most countries, the impact of COVID 19 lockdown restrictions, however, has significantly affected lives and livelihoods of a lot of citizens in many ways, including job loss, higher prices, disruptions to health care services and education, and rationing of food and other necessary goods.
Responding to the call of Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits in Vietnam have engaged in assisting the poor and suffering in different ways. The Province has encouraged all local Jesuit communities to discern how to support poor people as well as to accompany the Catholic faithful in their areas.
In the parish of the Epiphany in Hochiminh City, the Jesuits offered two pastoral programs to support the poor and to accompany parishioners in their spiritual life, such as providing the Ignatian spiritual exercises in everyday life through social networks and distributing rice, fish sauce, sugar, and instant noodle to those living in extremely poor conditions both Catholics and non-Catholics in the area of the parish. Novices and formators of the Sacred Heart Novitiate reduced their daily expenses to raise relief funds to feed and take care of the poor in Thu Duc and Binh Thanh areas.
According to Fr. Peter Truong Van Phuc, SJ, Chairperson of the Social Ministry Committee of the Province, there are three main activities in the emergency aid program of the Vietnamese Jesuits as efforts to help victims of COVID 19: 1. Collecting data on victims of COVID 19; 2. Mobilizing the financial support for the emergency aid program; 3. Buying and providing food and necessary items for those most in need.
Since the declaration of a state of emergency on COVID 19 Pandemic by the Prime Minister on April 1, Fr. Phuc, together with 3 groups of Jesuit friends and benefactors, stepped up with donations and fundraising initiatives (total 20,000 EUR) to help the poor. The Committee also invited 5 volunteer groups, including Dominican sisters, Franciscan Missionary Sisters, Servant Missionary of Holy Spirit sisters, Little Sister of Mary sisters, and Jesuit lay collaborators to distribute relief packs to low-income families and marginalized people. Jesuits scholastics and formators of St. Joseph Jesuit Scholasticate also helped Fr. Phuc and his Committee to prepare more than 10 tons of rice to provide for poor families. According to a report of Fr. Phuc, 16 tons of rice and other necessary items, such as eggs, cooking oil, instant noodles, and sugar were provided to 765 marginalized families in poor areas of Hochiminh City and neighboring provinces such as Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, and Gia Lai.
“We try our best, in our limited capacity, to help the most vulnerable people during the COVID 19 pandemic. Because, according to Fr. JCAP President Tony Moreno, SJ, ‘it is not just a question of flattening the curve of Covid-19, but also flattening the curve of hunger’, said, Fr. Phuc.