HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (CNS) — Catholic migrant workers based in Laos are returning home to be with their families in time for the Tet New Year holidays and, for many, the trip will offer a chance to renew their faith.
Others, however, even within Vietnam, will not make the traditional journey to be with their family for the lunar new year, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.
Paul Le Quoc Hai, a Catholic who works as a carpenter in Laos’ Khammouan province, said he will take advantage of this Tet holiday to get his two children baptized.
Hai, 39, said he will have to provide faith education for his children in the future.
He said around 80 migrant Vietnamese Catholics live in the province and their children are not taught catechism.
“We gather to pray at our houses while Laotian priests are not allowed to publicly provide pastoral activities or build churches,” he told UCA News.
According to Vietnamese government figures, approximately 25,000 Vietnamese migrants work in Laos.
“The Tet holidays are a good opportunity for us to see our relatives and rekindle our faith,” said Marie Huynh Thi Am, who returned to her home province of Quang Tri Jan. 16.
Since returning, Am said she and her two daughters have gone to confession, attended daily services at their local church and intend to make a pilgrimage to the national Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang.
Am, 50, said they moved to Laos in 2008 and sell food at a market in Pakse, in Champasak province. The nearest place to attend Mass in Laos is at a chapel in Phonthong, more than 40 miles from where they live.
As the Tet holidays approached in Ho Chi Minh City, Truong Thu Huong, 9, waited patiently for passers-by to buy some persimmons from her handcart.
“I need to sell all these,” she told UCA News. “If I don’t, they’ll go rotten and I’ll make a loss.”
Huong and her younger brother take the handcart out every night after school to help support their family.
“My mother promised to buy me a set of new clothes to wear on Tet,” said Huong. “So I’m trying to work extra hard to make enough money, even though I’m feeling sleepy and tired.”
Her mother, Nguyen Thi Mai, was down the street, selling mangoes. She said she was worried she would not have the money to fulfill her promise.
“My husband works as a motorcycle taxi driver and we can only afford the children’s school fees and monthly rent,” she said. “We’re wishing we can make enough to buy them those clothes for Tet.”
She said the family has not been able to make the traditional trip to the family home for the last three new years.
Ho Thi My Phuong is another who will not travel home this year. She and her husband earn $192 a month by collecting garbage. Their two children stay with their grandparents in Tay Ninh province and, although the parents can afford to send money home for the Tet festival, they have not been able to join their children for years.
“We have no choice,” she said. “If we did go home for Tet, we’d be fired.”
An estimated 2 million people come from other parts of Vietnam to work in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial hub, mostly selling street food, doing domestic work or working construction. Local media reports say about 200,000 of these internal migrants will not get home for Tet this year, as they cannot afford to travel.
The situation is worsened by the fact that in the run-up to the festival, the cost of travel, food and other services goes up to take advantage of demand.