The 2009 Lunar New Year celebration has been marked by great efforts from Church leaders and Youth movements to drive Catholic youth away from pagan rituals that expose them to faith-related risks.

Quan Am Pagoda
On the Eve of the New Lunar Year, streets leading to Quan Am pagoda, a famous Chinese temple in Cholon (a section of Saigon), were overcrowded by thousands of people who were pushing their way through the main gate of the premise. Inside the pagoda, thousands jostled each other to the altar where hundreds were kneeling before big statues of Buddha, Guan Yu (the Taoist god of war), and dozens of other gods praying and tossing boxes of fortune-telling cards in order to choose a random one.

Next to the altar was a series of fortune-telling posts where several young women were eagerly listening to the old scholars' interpretation of their cards. They paid close attention to what the fortune teller were telling them with occasional emotional outburst, either laughing or crying.

These "scholars" would have been called great psychologists without going to school for a degree since they seemed to mesmerize the women with promises for a good fortune in the New Year, and numerous of guarantees for security and good health, anything they wanted to hear.

Fact is most of people lining up waiting for their turn to worship Buddha, Guan Yu and other gods before having their fortune told by "scholars" were Buddhists. However, among them were a small number of Catholic youth who behave no different from any other people.

"Facing uncertainty about their futures in slowing economy especially the challenge of finding work and keeping their jobs, the fragility of their marriage, and numerous of difficulties in their daily lives, people are burnt with a strong desire to know what await them in the coming year," explained Sr. Marie Nguyen, a Sociologist.

"However, 'abominable idolatries' or idol-worshipping is a mortal sin that exposes people to grave faith-related risks," she warned.

"Facing the danger of more and more Vietnamese youngsters are heading into the wrong direction which is totally opposite of Catholic teachings, Catholic and Youth leaders- with much consideration-have developed many initiatives which they thought would help to re-assert the Catholic faith and in the mean time redirect them into a new dimension of evangelism," she added.

One of these initiatives is a grassroots movement called "Disciples of Jesus"- which was strongly encouraged by the Church leaders. The idea has been conceived and planned for several years by many Catholic college students in Saigon. They have had concerns about how deteriorating the social values and morals is, how much it affected the society as a whole, -especially on youths- and are still in the process of figuring out what is really working for the best interest of the poor, underprivileged people whom they want to serve. Until Aug. 2008, when the government started a media campaign to vilify the Church, much of this seemingly a great plan still remains "under construction" without much of an action is being carried out.

It took the Thai Ha-Hanoi nunciature incidents to snap them out of their hibernation period, exposing them to a rude awakening on how ugly the true face of Vietnam today is, on how gravely the social evils such as government officials' bribery, child bride and child prostitutes trafficking, drug use on children as young as in grade school, incest, domestic abuse etc... have harmed this society, on how vulnerable and hopeless the average citizens have become when facing with not just economic downturn, but also the deception and dishonesty of the government - both central to local- on various issues, most importantly on how they manipulate the judicial and media systems to protect dishonest cadres instead of honest, law abiding but powerless citizens.

The Saigon youth decided to take actions instead of watching human suffering in silence. They have been on the road this New Year in small groups, looking out for their "Jesus" in human forms, talk to them and present them with small but essential gifts such as rice, noodles, soy sauce, new year snacks and traditional food. They have been receiving the blessing and great support from Father Joseph Le Quang Uy - a Redemptorist - despite the rumor that the government is putting him and other Redemptorists under close surveillance, a prelude for an arrest.

Their "Jesuses" are those homeless who are found roaming street looking sad and hungry, or sleeping in a makeshift, cardboard shelter at the cemetery even on the eve of the Lunar New Year. These people are usually beggars or poor labors who just lost their job due to economic crisis without unemployment benefits or other circumstances. And while home is so far away, a homecoming trip can cost them dearly; they have no choice but to remain in the metro areas, hoping to be first one on the list when there is a recall from the employer.

They do not have to look so hard since their "Jesuses" are abundant this New Year. These Jesuses this year have been suffering great loss from poor harvesting due to floods and cold spells, which can easily turn a farmer into poverty in just one season. Their Jesuses can also be the farmers, who have been not that lucky to be able to keep their farmland due to the new, ruthless policy on "rezoning" of the government.

Father Joseph Le Quang Uy, the spiritual advisor to the groups has warned the public about the DOJ presence on the street of Saigon suburbs with pride and enthusiasm:" So from now on, when you are on the streets late at night on Lunar New Year's eve and you spot mostly noisy and carefree - young people in their teens or twenties hanging around recklessly on their motorbikes, carrying bags of suspicious looking nature, rest assured that you're running into the DOJs or "Jesus finders".

They are simply there to bring gifts of peace and love to the poor whom they view as image of Jesus, with hope that they themselves can get peace and love in return, by giving away a piece of their heart to children of God.