here is what happened to Thào Thi Dung (23) in village number 11, Quang Hoa, Dak G’long, Province of Dak Nong. In 2009, she was locked into a cage next to the house by her parents. She had to do all activities of daily life, such as eat, sleep, personal hygiene, in this cage. Her parents, Mr. Thào Seo Cáo and Mrs. Mai Thj Chu, told us that, three years ago, various symptoms of her illness were apparent. She was provocative, started to rail at everyone and finally took to beating everybody in her family who got close to her. The parents thought their daughter was insane and locked her up in a cage in order to avoid contact with humans.
Mr. Le Viet Sinh, chairman of the village committee of Quang Hoa said: “three years are a long time. Basically, she should receive professional help. I will send a letter to my boss and see if I can and may do something for the woman.“ Indeed, the chairman of the village committee is correct: three years is a long time. For the Thào Seo Cáo family, it was unbearably long. By rights, the Catholic Church should have done something for the woman by this time. It seems like the charitable organisation of the church does not really function well in Vietnam.
It is shortly before Christmas. The preparations for the Christmas Festivities in Vietnam are under way. No matter if Christians or communists, the streets are illuminated, the shops are full of plastic Christmas trees, all the shopping centres are full of glamour and colourful lights, like Rio de Janeiro during the carnival. The Catholic churches, too, are decorated with exaggerated illumination and huge mangers. Billions of VND are spent for these decorations. Everybody is in an excellent mood, there is no hint of a contemplative Christmas. These are purely secular festivities. And the non-Christians seem to understand one thing above all else: the Catholic Church is rich.
Shadow Existence Outside
On witnessing all these things, I kept thinking of my handicapped children in Thai Binh and in the Mekong Delta. There are people with handicaps who remain outside of life in Vietnam. They need more than just assistance and money. They need a smile at their workplace, the mercy of a neighbour, a visit by the village pastor. In this country, many people believe that handicapped people should stay at home; they have no business mingling in society, they cost money and are a nuisance. Only in rare cases do they receive love and understanding from their parents, family and neighbours – mostly if they are supposed to still be of some use. In those cases, they are the free servants for the family. They are not welcome, many of them do not even officially exist. They have never been registered, were considered children of the devil or animals with human characteristics. However, they are very much sought-after when it comes to displaying them in order to collect charity contributions.
The Church Could Help – But is That What She Wants?
In Vietnam, the church keeps telling people that the government is not doing enough for handicapped persons. This is absolutely correct, but then: what did the church do for these people? Far too less, regardless of the fact that the church could and must do a lot more. The Vietnam church spends horrendous sums of money on building churches. Village pastors live comfortably and well in the parsonage and do little. Mind you, I do not object in principle against priests doing just fine and churches looking beautiful, but that is not what the essence of a church should be.
In Vietnam, we have more than 5.5 million handicapped persons and 10 million Catholics. Those 5.5 million handicapped persons would be a nice target group for the church if the members wished to live what their evangelists preach and do good deeds. For a poor country, 5.5 million handicapped persons are an enormous social burden. It is quite possible that the government would like to do something for them, but cannot. The church could do something, but she does not want to. Mind you, I am not saying the churches do not move in that direction, but their motion is too little, too slow and without real organization or true goals. The church must do more for handicapped persons and if that is really what she wants, she can do it, too.
United in Doing Nothing
Churches should not be rich in buildings, but rich in love – especially for handicapped people. The gospel should not be preached just through sermons, but through behaviour. In Vietnam, the communist civil servants are happy with how the priests currently live. They will do all they can in order to make life for priests, nuns and deacons even more comfortable, because then they will neglect their vocation. They must live as comfortable as possible, they are not supposed to develop new ideas about improving the situation for handicapped persons. This is not good for society, but the civil servants will sleep better. As long as the church is weak, the government will be strong.
It is about time for the church in Vietnam to take the Christian Mission seriously and start talking with the government in order to realize a true cooperation. What they need is love, faith and a little courage to change the course.
To all of you, your families, friends and acquaintances a Happy Christmas and peace and health for the year 2013.
Yours Francis Van Hoi
Here is the necessary information if you want to make a contribution:
Empfänger: Salesianer Don Boscos Konto-Nr: 22378015 Bankleitzahl: 37060193 (Pax – Bank) Verwendungszweck: Agent-Orange-Kinder
(Translated by EG)