Lunar New Year (commonly known as Tet) exposes the widening gap between rich and poor in Vietnam. Bishops urge Catholics to help their needy brothers and sisters who have been steadily growing in number in many areas of the country.

What Jesus told in His famous parable "Lazarus and the rich man" can be seen evidently in Vietnam today. Along crowded streets of Hanoi and Saigon, there are rich men dressing in “purple and fine linen”, driving the most luxurious cars in the world, feasting sumptuously every day in splendid hotels while right at the gates of these hotels lie numerous beggars. Most of them are poor peasants forced to leave their villages for various reasons.

In a report on how businessmen and rich officials buy luxurious cars to show off their wealth, a state-run media outlet, disclosed an order for a 1.5-million Bugatti Veyron. According to Vietnam Net, the car was bought by a young man, son of an official-turned successful land developer, who already had a collection of five similar ones.

Despite the fact that owners incur an 80% tax on imported cars, local press has reported a significant increase in car ownership since 2007. With sea ports heavily congested, some impatient car owners are even willing to pay more to have their vehicles flown in. On average, it can cost three times more to buy a car in Vietnam compared with an identical model in the United States. Even so, car imports have increased four-fold in recent years. In an unprecedented move, a director of a real estate company even bought a 7-million 12-seater Beechcraft King Air 350.

At the other end of the spectrum, Vietnam still relies heavily on foreign aids from Western governments, donor agencies, and non-governmental organizations to lift out millions of people living in poverty. Local press reports that on 2008, average monthly wage for state employees is VND 600,000 (about USD 34). Low-skilled workers have to struggle with an average monthly wage of VND 450,000 (about USD 25).

In pastoral letters on the occasion of Lunar New Year Celebration, most bishops express their concern that the widening gap between rich and poor will cause more social evils or criminal activities.

"Social evils have increased at an alarming rate," wrote Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong. "More and more young people join gangs to steal, rob and murder for money," he lamented.

Bishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Thanh Hoa had specifically warned his flock on the danger of drug use and HIV. "I specifically remind you to be highly vigilant against the risk of drug addiction and HIV."

In other dioceses, bishops raise the concern that so many people in Vietnam have to suffer more in Tet when everything costs much more than normal. They fear that some even do not have enough food for their daily meals.

Tet celebration in Vietnam nowadays therefore can be defined as an occasion to relax and enjoy life after a year long of hard work for the small but selected class but for the majority of people who lead a hand-to-mouth life, the daily struggle to make ends meet seem to be more brutal and challenging when this celebration draws near at a time Vietnam is on the brink of an economic collapse.