The economic crisis has led to a growing number of people without enough to eat. From the "piggy banks" of the parish of Phu Hanh to Fr. Le's internet appeal, to the decision not to celebrate by the sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Vietnam is facing its most difficult economic period since the middle of the 1990's, when the government decided on liberalization. The forecast for growth has been reduced from 8% to 6.5%, and interest rates were raised three times last year to address double-digit inflation. The inflation rate stood at 14.1% in January, rose to 28.32% in August, and has remained high. It is in this context that the Catholic bishops are expressing their concern about those who do not have enough to eat even during the celebrations for the Têt, the lunar new year, because of the spike in prices for food and fuel.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Fr. Dominic Truong Kim Huong, pastor of the Phu Hanh parish, has asked his parishioners to set aside a little money for the poor. After cutting family expenses as much as possible, 4,650 parishioners collected 14,843,000 Vietnamese dollars (12,330 U.S. dollars), which was distributed among 200 local families, most of them Buddhist.

The initiative was begun on Ash Wednesday in 1997, and each year since then, on that day each Catholic family in the parish has received a piggy bank (Con Heo Đất), which is brought back to church two weeks before the beginning of the lunar new year. The money collected is distributed among the poor families. In 1997, this came to 32 million dong, and in 2008, 203.9 million.

Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy, a Redemptorist, has asked for support from the visitors to his website ( Donations have come from Vietnam, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, and the United States, totaling between 45,800 and 57,200 dollars. Fr. Le says that the donations will be used to buy food, clothing, medicine, and wheelchairs for poor students, orphans, AIDS patients, and the handicapped. And also for the victims of natural disasters or people who need serious medical care, like heart or eye surgery. Most of the money will be used to build houses or to dig wells for the poorest of the poor, in remote areas. With the approach of the Tết, Fr. Le is involved in distributing money, food, clothing, and medicine to the poor in the highlands, in the provinces of Dalat, Kuntom, Buon Me Thuot, and Dac Lac.

Last year, more than 100 local volunteers worked together with Fr. Le on "pro-life" activities, including finding shelter, food, and medicine for women with unplanned pregnancies. Thanks to these initiatives, 600 women gave birth instead of having abortions.

In the extreme south of the country, the sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres, who have seen their house commandeered and turned into a public park, are doing their best to keep up. They have decided to delay their celebration of the Tết, and to give priority to the distribution of aid. This year, the list of those requiring assistance is long, because of economic difficulties in the country. But the sisters do this out of habit, without ulterior motives, since the history of their order in this poor region has always put hospitality in first place.