In statements issued to mark the Lunar New Year (commonly known as Tet), Vietnam's Catholic bishops have written about the widening gap between rich and poor in the country and urge Catholics to help their needy brothers.

Referring to the parable of 'Lazarus and the rich man' the bishops describe, how along the crowded streets of Hanoi and Saigon, there are rich men dressed in 'purple and fine linen', driving the most luxurious cars in the world, feasting sumptuously every day in splendid hotels, while at the gates of these hotels lie numerous beggars. Most of them are poor peasants forced to leave their villages for economic 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, who already had a collection of five similar ones.

Despite the fact that owners incur an 80% tax on imported cars, the local press has reported that car ownership has increased significantly 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 end of the spectrum, Vietnam still relies heavily on foreign aid from Western governments, donor agencies, and non-governmental organizations to support 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 their pastoral letters for the Lunar New Year, most bishops express their concern that the widening gap between rich and poor will cause more social crimes and disturbances.

"Social crimes 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 said.

Bishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Thanh Hoa specifically warns his flock 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.