Catholics in Vietnam have launched many new initiatives to help people to celebrate the Lunar New Year in dignity during the long-lasting economic crisis.

The Communist Party government of Vietnam is facing its biggest economic test since market liberalization began in the mid-1990s. It has cut growth targets to 6.5 per cent from an optimistic estimation of 8 per cent previously, and raised interest rates three times during last year to fight double-digit inflation. The monthly rate of inflation was 14.1 in January 2008. It soared to 28.32 in August and has stayed strong for several months.

In that context, Catholic bishops have raised their concerns that some will not have enough food for their daily meals during the Lunar New Year Celebration (commonly known as Tết) due to a spike in food and fuel prices.

A Buddhist with gift and money from Phu Hanh parish
In the archdiocese of Saigon, Fr. Dominic Truong Kim Huong, pastor of Phu Hanh parish, asked his parishioners to save money for the poor. After months of cutting their family budget to a minimum, 4650 parishioners had saved up to 214,843,000 VND (12,330 USD). That money has been distributed to 200 local families. Most of them are Buddhists.

The initiative got started on Ash Wednesday of 1997 as a practical gesture of almsgiving in the first day of the Lent season. Every year, on the Ash Wednesday, every Catholic family in the parish receives a porcelain piggy bank (commonly known as Con Heo Đất). These piggy banks are to be brought back to Church a fortnight before the eve of the Lunar New Year. This cash savings is then distributed to poor families in the neighborhood. In the first year of 1997, the whole parish saved 32,000,000 VND. The dollar figure was swollen to 203,900,000 VND in 2008.

Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy, a Redemptorist, has taken donation collecting technique to a higher, broader level by appealing to readers on his website ( As a result of his initiative, readers from Vietnam, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France and the United States have donated between 45,800 USD to 57,200 USD each year.

According to Fr. Joseph Le, the donated money is well used for food, clothes, medicine and wheelchairs for poor students, orphans, people with AIDS or physical disabilities, also for victims of natural disasters, and people who needed major medical necessities such as heart or eye surgeries. A big part of the money is used to build houses and dig wells for the poorest among the poor in remote areas.

Last year, over 100 local volunteers have worked with Fr. Joseph Le in "pro-life activities," including providing accommodation, food and medicine for women with unwanted pregnancies. Thanks to these efforts, 600 women have given birth rather than have an abortion.

As Tết approaches, Fr. Joseph Le has been busy distributing money, food, clothes, medicine for the poor in remote areas of Vietnam Central Highland in Dalat, Kuntom, Buon Me Thuot, and Dac Lac provinces. He could hardly find time to shop for his new pair of shoes.

The sisters of St Paul de Chartres in the Southern tip of Vietnam, whose house in Vinh Long was confiscated and converted into a public park, are also trying their best to keep up with the pace. They had decided to put their Tet celebration on the back burner for now and put aid distribution on first priority. This year the list of recipients seems longer due to ailing economy of the country. These nuns do that as a routine and without second thought since history of their Order in this poor region has always been tied up with making others' ends meet first.