The Formation Of The Missionaries Of Christ’s Charity In Saigon, Vietnam
Having met Mother Teresa in person, witnessed her saintly manner and briefly worked with her and the Missionaries of Charity, the 20 Vietnamese sisters bravely and proudly bore the new name given to them by Mother Teresa and Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi as Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.
The Formation Of The Missionaries
Of Christ’s Charity In Saigon,
Having met Mother Teresa in person, witnessed her saintly manner and briefly worked with her and the Missionaries of Charity, the 20 Vietnamese sisters bravely and proudly bore the new name given to them by Mother Teresa and Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi as Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. They closely followed the spirituality of Mother Teresa in their prayer life such as attending the daily Eucharist, spending quiet time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and joining other sisters in their community praising God in their daily prayer. With the blessings given by Mother Teresa and Archbishop Paul Binh, they went about ministering to the poorest of the poor. Like Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, the newly formed Missionaries of Christ’s Charity enjoyed success in the so many different ways from the increasing in number of vocations to the increasing number of missions. Responding to the invitations extended by bishops of the neighboring dioceses, they expanded their missions throughout South Vietnam. In 2006, Mother Nirmala who succeeded Mother Teresa as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta came to Vietnam with the intention of incorporating the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity into one family with the Missionaries of Charity. Having personally witnessed the growth of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity, Mother Nirmala had a change of heart. Along with Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man, they filed a petition in Rome to recognize the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity as a congregation of the Holy Roman Catholic Church with Sister Mary Frances Ha Thi Thanh Tinh as superior general of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.
6.2 THE FORMATION OF THE MISSIONARIES OF CHRIST’S CHARITY IN SAIGON
Between the years 1993 to 1995, Mother Teresa visited Saigon 5 times. She had expressed great desire to open houses in Vietnam and China. This explained why Mother Teresa spent the majority of her time in Vietnam and China near the end of her life. Unfortunately, the Communists in Vietnam and China threatened by her notoriety adamantly refused her permission to work in their countries. Nonetheless, the two short years which she spent in Vietnam proved to be very fruitful. During the 5 visits, Sister Nirmala who succeeded Mother Teresa was in charge of teaching the Constitutions and training the Vietnamese Sisters every Thursday and Sunday. Well trained and armed with the Constitution of the Missionaries of Charity, the Vietnamese sisters of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity were ready to live the spirituality and imitate the works of Mother Teresa both in their prayers and in their works. The Missionaries of Christ’s Charity, however, have always hoped of being incorporated into the family of the Missionaries of Charity.
6.3 THE IMITATION OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF MOTHER TERESA
Following the spirituality of Mother Teresa, the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity began with the daily Eucharist at 4:30 a.m. at the local parishes. Drawing the needed strength from the Eucharist, the sisters believed Christ who humbly dwells in the form of bread and wine will nourish them and give them the necessary courage and dedication to serve and minister to the poorest of the poor. Following the Mass, the sisters spent an hour and a half praying with the community of the Office of the Hours (the official prayers of the church for all clergy and religious) to strengthen their bond and unity. After having fed their souls, the sisters ate a quick breakfast which was customary to the Vietnamese culture namely steamed rice. They went out in search of the poorest of the poor such as pregnant teenagers at abortion clinics and hospital, the orphans on streets corners, the HIV/AIDS in the slums or the abandoned elderly in the alleys. Upon encountering them, the sisters would take them home where they have a roof over their heads and warm food in their stomachs. After a long and laborious day of work, the sisters spent hours in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to pray, praise and give thanks to God. They had to rest early due to darkness for lack of electricity only to get up the next morning at 4:30 and faithfully minister to the poor all over again.
6.4 THE BLESSED INCREASE IN NUMBER
The Missionaries of Christ’s Charity do not advertise for vocations. They believe their good works are the best method for recruiting vocations to religious life. The conditions or requirements are simple. The candidates have to be between the ages of 18 to 25 and have a High School education. The candidates must have a special love for the Eucharist and Blessed Sacrament, freely embrace the life of poverty and selflessly serve the poorest of the poor. In order to better the service to the sick and suffering, candidates must be willing to study in the medical field to become registered nurses. If the candidates feel called to become Missionaries of Christ’s Charity, they must return home to make a novena to the Holy Spirit. After the nine days of praying and fasting, if they still feel called to serve the poorest of the poor then they can come back to join the congregation. The charism of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity is as follow:
- A special love for Jesus in the Eucharist
- Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament
- Tend to the abandoned, homeless, and dying
- Welcome the pregnant teenagers
- Protect the children born and unborn
- Bring communion to the sick and shut-in
- Care for the HIV/AIDS victims
Starting with 20 sisters less then 20 years ago, the congregation of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity has been blessed with 68 professed sisters, 20 novices and 43 Postulates. The number could be higher but due to the lack of room and board and the finances to adequately provide for the numerous candidates, the congregation can only accept a selected few.
6.5 THE BLESSED INCREASE IN NEW MISSIONS
Following in the footsteps of Mother Teresa, its spiritual founder, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity shared a humble beginning in a little home on 428 Huynh Van Banh, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Since then, it has extended out to 7 other dioceses in Vietnam with numerous Missionaries posts:
- Saigon Diocese: A Mother House; one orphanage for boys; one orphanage for girls; two Mother’s Love homes for pregnant teenagers and young mothers; one school to erase illiteracy for poor children in Hoc Mon; and one Montessori to help poor families in Tan Qui.
- Ba Ria Diocese: one mission in Long Dien Parish to teach catechism and bring communion to the sick and shut-in; and one mission in Hai Lam parish to assist the abandoned elderly, the destitute and the dying.
- My Tho Diocese: one mission in Tram Chim to dispense medication for the sick and suffering.
- Phu Cuong Diocese: one mission to assist the abandoned elderly, the destitute and the dying; and one Mother’s Love home to help the pregnant teenagers.
- Long Xuyen Diocese: two missions in Soc Son Hon Dat, one to erase illiteracy and one to dispense food and water to the poor.
- Buon Ma Thuot Diocese: one mission at Dakmil to assist the run away and dust of life children.
- Phan Thiet Diocese : a mission at Vo Dat for expens medication; and teach catechism and bring communion to the sick and shut-in.
- Nice Diocese in France: one mission to help and feed the homeless; and one mission to assist the chancery.
- Corpus Christi Diocese in USA : one mission at St. Philip The Apostle parish to teach catechism and visit the elderly in the Housing Home.
- Mercy Center: one mission consists of 12 registered nurse sisters to minister to the HIV/AIDS victims.
Blessed with God’s grace coupled with the intercession of Blessed Mother Teresa, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity has branched out further and faster then they had ever imagined. This perhaps is truly the work of the Holy Spirit.
6.6 MOTHER NIRMALA’S VISIT AND THE REQUEST TO ROME FOR OFFICIAL RECOGNITION AS A CONGREGATION OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
In June of 2006, Mother Nirmala, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity and her assistant superior general came to Vietnam to visit the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity with the intention of incorporating the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity into Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Mother Nirmala was utterly amazed at the growth and development of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity in Saigon, Vietnam. She could not believe that within the time span of 10 years under the Communist’s regime, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity has flourished from 2 missions to 20 missions. Mother Nirmala confided with the Vietnamese sisters, “Prior coming to Vietnam, the council of the Missionaries of Charity had met and agreed to incorporate the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity into Mother Teresa’s congregation. But after arriving in Vietnam and personally witnessed the growth, we have to admit this must be the work of the Holy Spirit functioning through the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. Thus, we do not want to abolish the name of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.” Mother Nirmala had said as much to Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man and he wisely concurred. However, he wanted to continue sending the sisters from Saigon to Calcutta to be trained by the Missionaries of Charity. The name Missionaries of Christ’s Charity shall remain the same, but the Vietnamese sisters would be considered as members of the larger family of the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Nirmala was more than happy to accept and agree with Cardinal John Baptist’s suggestion. With the agreement of Mother Nirmala, Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man filed an application in Rome requesting the Holy Father to grant recognition to the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity as a congregation of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
Trusting in God’s providence, Mother Teresa came to Vietnam hoping to spread the seed of hope and love among the poorest of the poor. Although, her ministry was cut short, the seed of hope and love was planted by the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. Imitating the spirituality the Mother Teresa, the sisters of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity experienced some blessed increase in numbers and missions. The expansion was so impressive and Mother Nirmala recognized it was the work of the Holy Spirit. Trusting in the persuasion of the Holy Spirit, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity bravely embraced their works among the poorest of the poor especially in Saigon. The next chapter will expound on the works of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity among the poorest of the poor within the City of Saigon.
Saigon, The Capital
Of The Poorest Of The Poor
April 30, 1975 marked the end of the twenty-year war between the Communist North and the Democratic South Vietnam. Unfortunately, victory sided with the Communists of North Vietnam which led to a massive exodus from South Vietnam. Many Southern Vietnamese risked their lives by fleeing the country via the ocean. It was estimated that the evacuation caused hundred of thousands of people to have their lives perished on the open sea. Indeed, it was a human tragedy on a biblical scale. Nonetheless, the losing of the war was a blessing for the country as a whole. It was a blessing because brothers of the same family, who were separated when Vietnam was split into north and south in 1954, no longer slaughtered and killed each other on the battle-field. It was by no means that life was getting any easier. As a matter of fact, life after the war was harsh and often unforgiving. But many would readily agree that they would prefer peace over poverty. Living in relative peace brought with it an altogether different challenge. Vietnam experienced a population explosion which caught the country off guard and unprepared for what was to come. The government in all its efforts did their best to respond and meet the needs of the people but it was to no avail. The population was increasing faster than the jobs were available which led to high unemployment and steep levels of poverty. The country of Vietnam as a whole was on an economic down spiral and it would require tremendous endeavors from good and dedicated people to slow down the fall and turn it around. The following chapter will take a closer look at the state of the country of Vietnam, the state of the city of Saigon, the problems facing the Catholic Church in Saigon under Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, and the identification of the poorest of the poor in Saigon so as to better assist them.
7.2 THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY OF VIETNAM
The twenty-year war between North and South Vietnam was the cause of much instability not only in the United States but also in Vietnam. The loss of resources could be recovered; but how could a country replace the loss of several millions of young people whose lives were cut short by the violence of war. At the end of the war in 1975, the population of Vietnam was estimated at 40 million people, both North and South Vietnam combined. Due to the new found peace – absence of war, the population had almost doubled by the year 2000 and was still climbing. Those in the government were caught unprepared; although, they did their best to respond to the needs of the growing population with new movements and programs. As 15 May School Project reports, “While ‘doi moi’ (Vietnam’s movement from a managed socialist economy to a more free market orientated model) has managed to increase the quality of life for a large proportion of the country’s population, there are key groups that have been left behind. A lack of well paid, stable jobs in the cities has lead to many families having to make the difficult choice between their children getting an education or working on the street to ensure enough food on the table to feed the whole family. In the provinces, rural poverty and dreams of a better life in the city has lead to many children migrating, only to find getting stable employment or accommodations nearly impossible.”
Vietnam is a growing country but with few opportunities especially for the unskilled and undereducated people in the rural areas. The Center for Educational and Vocational Training reports, “among the population of 80 million of whom 30% are under 16 and is made up of 53 ethnic minority groups, over 90% of people in live poverty in the rural areas, exacerbated by unfavorable geographic and infrastructure conditions and limited access to sources of information about capital, technology and reality of national economic development which hinders self-enterprise. Rural to urban migrants lack the necessary knowledge and skills to work in cities.” The most vulnerable are women especially teenage girls. Children of migrant families are at a higher risk of being exposed to street life where many underworld elements of abuse and exploitation are waiting for them to fall into.
7.3 THE STATE OF THE CITY OF SAIGON
With the country of Vietnam facing the problem of having too many unskilled workers and not enough jobs to fill the demand, many big cities in Vietnam shared the same fate for it created a domino effect. Overcrowded cities such as Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) were also caught unprepared to deal with the eventual problem. It too was devastated by the sudden population explosion. At the end of the 20 year war in 1975, Saigon had a population of about 2 million people, a relatively crowded city. However, by the year 2005, Saigon had increased to over 6 million people. Presently, the population has multiplied to over 8 million people. While the population kept climbing higher and higher, little was done in the area of housing and employment to accommodate the population’s growth pain. The reason for the rapid increase in population is due largely to the migration of poor people from rural areas. Dreaming for a better life, the undereducated and unskilled poor migrated to the big city hoping to find employment and a better future.
Life in Saigon proved to be more difficult than the migrants had hoped for. Once they arrived in Saigon, they were deeply disappointed that Saigon was an unaccommodating and unfriendly city. There were not enough jobs to be had. Being under educated and unskilled made it much harder to find a job. Saigon was not at all what they had dreamed it would be. Without any money to return home, they had to tough it out and tried to carve out a living. Being unskilled, there was not much they could do except working at menial jobs such as maids or servants for families or hotels clerks. That is if they were fortunate enough to find employment. Teenage girls were drawn into the underworld society of drug peddling and prostitution and escorts for men. Most of the teenage boys headed for the streets. In 1995, a last survey was taken and it was estimated that, “50,000 children were on the streets of Vietnam, of which 17,000 were found within Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC/Saigon). Among these street children, 40% were from Saigon and 60% had migrated from rural areas. 
7.4 AN INTERVIEW WITH CARDINAL JOHN BAPTIST PHAM MINH MAN, ARCHBISHOP OF SAIGON VIETNAM ON THE STATE OF THE CITY OF SAIGON
Knowing the condition of the country of Vietnam and its biggest city Saigon, gives us a general picture of the predicaments of the general population. Yet, it remains a general picture without names and faces to make it personal. In order to connect the problem to the people with names and faces, it would be best to hear it from those who are intimately involved with the present situation in Saigon. Hoping to identify and find a solution to the problem, the Archbishop of Saigon, Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man offered his thoughts. He had only 15 minutes to give to the interview in his office at the Chancery but ended up talking for over an hour. Cardinal John Baptist is the archbishop of Saigon. The archdiocese is made up of 198 parishes and about 50 missions where these parishes and missions are served by about 500 hundred priests both diocesan and religious. Presently, the archdiocese of Saigon is experiencing a shortage of priests due to the government restrictions on acceptance of seminarians and permission to ordain priests. During the last nine years as the archbishop of Saigon, he learned that since 1975 until 1998, about 250 priests had passed away. At the same time, the government only allowed 150 priests to be ordained. Cardinal John Baptist Pham humorously said, “I told the government they owed me 100 priests.” When asked about the religious brothers and sisters, Cardinal John Baptist reported to Rome about 5000 thousand religious. But he added many religious brothers and sisters were not reported because they entered the convents or monasteries in secret that is without permission granted by the government. He emphasized the law no longer required the religious brothers and sisters to seek permissions from the government. But it was not the case in the earlier years. With a very good sense of humor, which is needed when working in a very difficult situation, Cardinal John Baptist said he reported to Rome only the number that was given to him but as to the true number only God knows. Concerning the number of Catholics in the diocese of Saigon, Cardinal John Baptist faced the same dilemma as with the religious. He said, “There are about 630,000 registered Catholics.” But the rest is humanly impossible to know because of the booming number of migrant workers. Cardinal John Baptist shared a startling statistic that more than 2,000,000 migrant workers had come from the rural areas looking for work. If 10% (the average number of Catholic’s population in Saigon) is factored into the 2,000,000 then there would be another 200,000 Catholics in the archdiocese of Saigon. 
When he was asked about whether there was enough employment for all these migrant workers, Cardinal John Baptist shared some inside information about a meeting taking place between him and seven government officials. During the meeting, Cardinal John Baptist quoted the statistic from a local newspaper that Saigon had over 2,000,000 migrant workers yet the city could only provided about 1.2 or 1.3 million jobs. To make matters worst, the number of migrant workers continued to increase every day. In 2006, the government reported they were able to train and find jobs for about 250,000 people. So the number of those who are employed is about 1.5 million people. What about the half million people who are unemployed? Among this massive number of unemployed, a large number of people have fallen in with the underworld society where they were forced into dealing drugs, trafficking people and prostitution. All these bad elements lead to the spread of infections of HIV/AIDS. Cardinal John Baptist asked the government representatives, “Does the government have any plan or solution to help these people?” The response was, “We cannot do everything for everybody.” Cardinal John Baptist followed up with another question, “Then why don’t you allow the many different churches and charitable organizations to help you?” They did not have a response. Knowing the government is limited in its power to assist the vast number of migrant workers, Cardinal John Baptist mentioned some people are being helped by the many different religious brothers, sisters and laity. They take care of the orphans and street children but only in secret since the government does not allow them to publicly perform these works of charity. Cardinal John Baptist used the example of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity whose works are well known among the poorest of the poor. But their works are limited to a small scale because of the government’s stance.
7.5 THE POOREST OF THE POOR IN SAIGON ARE IDENTIFIED AS PREGNANT TEENAGERS, ORPHANS, HIV/AIDS VICTIMS AND ABANDONED ELDERLY.
When it comes to poor people, the majority of the people in Vietnam are poor. As a matter of fact almost 90% of the population of Vietnam is poor. Nonetheless, most of these poor are able to scratch out a living by working and doing menial jobs. Indeed, they need help and assistance in the area of education and job training to lift them out of poverty. Within this group of majority poor, there exist an even poorer group of people who without the assistance of caring people will certainly perish. This group of extremely poor people is identified as the poorest of the poor. The Missionaries of Christ’s Charity and other congregations would love to help all of the poor wherever they are found but due to the government’s prohibition and their own limitations, they have to identify and carefully choose only a certain few who met the criteria. Thus, the poorest of the poor are identified as the pregnant teenagers, the orphans, the HIV/AIDS victims and the abandoned elderly.
After twenty years of war and famine, Vietnam was finally united as one country. With the arrival of peace and harmony in the country, Vietnam as a country experienced an unexpected population explosion. Feeling overwhelmed, the government did what it could to accommodate the demand of the growing people. Big cities such as Saigon were also greatly affected by the migration of millions of under educated and unskilled workers. Local churches and charitable organizations are ready to lend a hand but the government’s political system is not ready to accept it. Thus, most of the works of charity are done by private individuals or by religious congregation in secret. Since it is impossible to assist all the poor in the country, the need to identify the greatest need among the neediest poor is necessary. The neediest people are the poorest of the poor who consists of the pregnant teenagers, the orphans, the HIV/AIDS victims and the abandoned elderly. The next chapter will dwell deeper into the topic of the pregnant teenagers in Saigon Vietnam.
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