COVID-19, Challenging and Grace – Vietnam

Sr. Maria Goretti Nguyen Thi Tam, OP
Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Thanh Tam, Vietnam

I am writing this sharing on the 23th day of September, 2020 when Ministry of Health in Vietnam just declared the triumph of the last patient in Đa Nang epicenter over Covid-19; and in the whole country, there is only one serious case left. Of course this is a good news for millions Vietnamese; however, in many areas in the world, positive cases have kept increasing. The number of 31,5 million infected people, and more than 970 thousand deaths are painful numbers for us all. Leaders and scientists all over the world have been hectically making vaccines to fight against the virus, but light is still a glimmering at the end of the tunnel.

I, a Dominican Sister, have lived for more than three fourth of the century, has experienced the extreme frightening atmosphere of wars during my childhood. Those encompassed the World War II which happened far in Western countries but had a lot impacts on our small S-shaped country. Nights to nights, even little babies who were still breastfed had to be with their parents to seek hiding places to avoid shoots and bombs of both French and Viet Minh soldiers. And then came the 1954 event which separated our country into two parts North and South. At that time, I was a nine-year-old girl, following my family migrated from to the South. Not long after that, the internal war followed lasting for more than 20 years, and the peaks of which were the events of Mau Than Tet holiday 1968 and the historical days in April 1975. At that time I was living in the convent, I have never forgotten any when we heard shootings and bombings, elderly sisters together with young sisters helped one another to run, and hide, and waited, sometimes throughout the night, until shootings and bombings stopped.  Everything has been recorded and stored in my memory, has become my life experiences that I can tell to the next generations. Although Wars terrified my childhood, they took away part of my youthful zeal, but I am happy to see type of peace and development in my country recently.

The world has been facing with wars, terror, and so many other fears.  Many people were scaring of the possibility of World War III and nuclear weapons might bring unpredictable destructions to the world. While this was still an assumption, we suddenly heard the news of Covid-19 which broke up in Wuhan, China and had killed hundreds then thousands of people; and now after nine months, this tiny virus has continued frightening billions of people all over the world; and I am not an exception.

I have been anxious to follow daily information about the pandemic. The diary of new infections and deaths kept thickening every day.  And we all together, especially the Dominicans around the world have been earnestly asking our God of Mercy for an end of this deadly pandemic.

War though is a terror to people, but the war against this invisible enemy – a little tiny virus is just absolutely terrifying! The images and “sad numbers” of the lonely deaths, more infections, economic recession, wage reduction, unemployment, and hunger… posted every day in social media have become a heart-burning obsession. However, one of the most interminable pains in the pandemic is the closure of churches around the world. In Vietnam, the boisterous morning bells to awaken the believers each morning suddenly went into silence; and the most sadness was that we are not allowed to attend Mass. Our community in Ho Chi Minh City is only 5 minutes’ walk to the Dominican Church where there are numbers of our Dominican priests, and yet we still had to attend masses on a screen and cravingly watched the celebrant receive Holy Communion himself!

However, the pandemic was not an entirely hateful enemy. It has given us lots of positive thoughts and insights.

During the social distancing time, we have more time for praying, reflecting, reading; and we also had a bit of time to chat with relatives and friends which we hardly find time to do on our busy days. Besides, we spent more time to take care of our own health like taking physical exercises, eating nutritious food, taking better sleep and entertainment. Moreover, during the “unemployed” and “lockdown” time, due to the long time closure of schools, the “unemployed sisters’ were not able to work nor to go anywhere but to buy food and urgent things. Thanks to that, we spent much more time together to enrich our Dominican community life.

Though people today are often blamed for their insensibility, amidst the pandemic, there appeared many good Samaritans and modern “Catherines of Siena” in the images of medical workers and volunteers who riskily sacrificed themselves serving in the hospitals in epicenters. Also many others have sought various ways to contribute their parts to fight against the epidemic. I was deeply touched seeing an old man or an old woman bring bunches of vegetable and eggs from their family, or a little boy heavily carry a long bamboo shoot to contribute for the meals of the Covid-19 patients. Others had created amazing contributions through the Rice ATM and Mask ATM to distribute rice and protective masks while still observing distancing rules. Our Dominican Sisters have emerged to this current of love to find new ways to reach out to those in need. I was happy to learn about one community of our Dominican Sisters in Ho Chi Minh City opened their house to shelter patients who were released from children hospital but could not go home due to the lock down in that area. Other Sisters distributed protective masks for those who could not buy them.  In my own congregation, together with love and care, we brought tons of rice to the poor in some areas that the ATMs could not reach; we gave basic salary for teachers and employees of our schools during the months of school closure. Through scholarships, we accompanied with the college and university students who were in financial difficulty for being stuck away from home. It proved that Covid-19 did prevent our bodily contact but it could not prevent the ways of Spirit and Love.

After a month of social distancing, the joy to restart a “new normal” had just begun when suddenly, in the mid of July, 2020, we heard the news of another outbreak appeared in Da Nang City, center part of Vietnam. This new wave of Covid-19 eruption was stronger and more complicated. Our life once more was fallen back into an unsteady situation. Fortunately, the distance policy in this time was it was flexible depending on the risky level of each local area.  Thanks to this new adaptive policy, economic activities in low risk areas were less affected. However, it was still affected our spiritual life. Churches were required to be closed or had to minimize the number who attend masses down to 20 to 30 people. Faithful returned to attend online masses, religious communities were allowed to have face-to-face mass but still in a precautionary condition.

Now, the second wave of Covid-19 in Vietnam has passed for a month, all social and religious activities have been reopened to a “new normal”. Off course, it left negative impacts especially on many poor and near poor individuals and families. Vietnam has gone through a dramatic fighting against Covid-19 days. All those who are living in this country have somewhat reduced our worrying burden of a pandemic was about to strike on the country. Nevertheless, when the pandemic is continuously terrorizing other parts of the world with increasing numbers of infections and deaths, we still feel deeply sorry, painful as well as threatened.

Every day, we offer our individual and common prayers to God through masses, adorations, recitations of Divine Mercy and Rosary, to pray for an end soon of this deadly pandemic. Let’s, His children always trust in His promise: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7,7).

Oh Lord, due to your almighty majesty and boundless mercy, please help the scientists quickly find vaccines and medicines to save us from this dreadful disease. Please heal those who are infected and prevent all of us from being infected, so that all human beings may find peace and happiness again in our lives. Amen.

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