Bridge of Muong Riec Built With Intercultural Effort of French and Vietnamese Youths

Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam - In the days following the spectacular World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, another group of French Catholic youths had made their way to the most remote region of Vietnam in order to help building a bridge for their fellow Christians whom they never met.

The French Catholic students were from the diocese of Créteil, France who had come to join with Hanoi’s youths in bringing mutual understanding and helping hands to the faithful of Muong Riec, s small, poor Catholic parish which composed of mostly Muong ethnics from Hoa Binh province, a mountainous region 76 km northwest of Hanoi

Father Joseph Le Danh Tuong and brother Peter Ta Van Thuong were their guides on this mission. They were joined by volunteers from Hai-Ha group who have made annual trips to provide educational assistance to the Muong children in this rugged terrain where illiteracy is one of the many enemies for generations.

French students working side by side with the Vietnamese and the Muong students
The initial meeting was filled with joy. Pleasantries were exchanged in broken languages of French, English, Vietnamese and Muong, not to mention the universal sign and body languages which got improvised as time went by. The messages somehow got across and everything ended up in laughter and acceptance. Together they overcame their language barriers and started working on the main project which was to build a bridge for the people of Muong Riec village

French students joined archbishop of Hanoi in prayers before heading back home
It’s only fair to say that no one from Muong Riec in their wildest dream could imagine or picture this scene where tens of total strangers - some of them came from half way around the world who didn’t even speak the same language as theirs- totally devoted to the Muong’s cause and chose to sacrifice their time and talent in this mountainous area where poverty and hope are intertwined with each other on a daily basis, thanks to the effort of Hanoi archdiocese.

During the course of the bridge building, the local Muong youngsters also put their daily chores aside and joined their French and Hanoian counterparts in the project. Even the children proved to be helpful when playing the role of a good host by bringing refreshment of water and sweet potatoes to the seemingly tireless volunteers.

At the end of each working day, the youths formed a circle around a bonfire and started singing. One could only guessed about the lyric of the songs they were singing, but who cared anyway when everybody was busy having a good time?

After three days of the mission the French group said good-bye to their Muong and Vietnamese friends and returned to Hanoi. There they received a warm welcome by the archbishop of Hanoi. The meeting was emotional when each student shared with the archbishop on how much the visit meant to them, both personally and spiritually. One student named Anne said this was the first time she ever experienced her faith in such a way that was so realistic and meaningful. Antoine on the other hand expressed his admiration for the community effort he witnessed in Muong Riec, something in his view had disappeared from his native of France. Marie was so satisfied with what she called “a small contribution to humanity” Christopher expressed how grateful he was to be able to obtain first hand experience on how the indigents have been living in this corner of the earth.

In his response the archbishop thanked the youths for their presence and contribution to his parishioners. He was confident that the relationship between the Christian communities of French and Vietnam would continue to prosper especially in the remote regions of Vietnam. He felt encouraged by the morale booster the French students had brought to the faithful of Muong Riec where religious activities are still being limited and facing many challenges. He believed the Muong youths will also learn from their new French friends on their kindness and freedom to express their religious belief.

The Muong Riec project had ended after three days of hard work for the French students but its legacy still carries on. Its memory still resonates in the minds of both youth groups so different in culture and lifestyle yet united in the spirit of selflessness. To the French students, besides the Viet- non la (straw hat) they brought home for souvenir they also treasured in their hearts as much as the Viet youths the fond memory of their days in Muong Riec, where a bridge had been built up by their own hands, by a never- before intercultural effort from those whose faith were definitely united in Christ.