|The main entrance of the Tân Mai Church has a huge LED morning star, a symbol of Jesus Christ, with nativity scenes set up on both sides of the church. VNS Photo Phương Mai|
With Christmas coming amid the pandemic, the Catholic community in the southern province of Đồng Nai, which has the country's largest diocese, is looking forward to a more subdued celebration this year.
By Phương Mai
Christmas is the time for decking out shops, houses and churches with ornaments and lights, and spectacular decorations. But with COVID-19 pandemic surging in many parts of Việt Nam, this Christmas season in the southern province of Đồng Nai will be far more restrained than the usual celebrations.
The province, home of Xuân Lộc, the country's largest diocese with 1.05 million Catholics in 303 parishes with 619 priests, will not be as colourful as in previous years.
Among the parishes, Tân Mai in Biên Hòa City for years has been famous for its Christmas celebrations with elaborate decorations at the church and nearby Catholic households.
At the entrance of the parish’s church, located inside narrow alleys in Tân Mai Ward, hangs a huge LED morning star, a symbol of Jesus Christ. A large nativity scene has been built on one side of the entrance, while the other side is a scene depicting the three Wise Men following the morning star to visit the infant Jesus on the night of his birth.
A 10m-high Christmas tree made of hundreds of LED lights has also been set up, next to a model of God’s hand holding the globe as a prayer for a better world amid the pandemic.
However, the area surrounding the church is quiet. The Catholic households have decked out their houses with only a few ornaments and lights.
For Biên Hòa residents, the scene is unusual because Tân Mai Parish with a community of 15,000 Catholics has been known for being the most decorated area in the city for a very long time, attracting thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics every year.
Đỗ Hồng Ngọc, a resident of Đồng Nai, said: “Last year, the alleys surrounding the Tân Mai Church were always crowded with people with smiling and happy faces. People came there to take beautiful photos with huge nativity scenes, Christmas trees and models of Santa Claus."
They also watched children from the parish sing classic Christmas carols and perform nativity scenes.
“I think I’ll miss the scenery the most,” she said.
According to the church’s managers, despite the pandemic, many parishes and their parishioners plan to celebrate a humble Christmas. Although the decorations are simple, the atmosphere will be still joyful, warm and safe.
To ensure pandemic prevention and control, apart from midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the parish will organise five different masses on Christmas Day to avoid overcrowding.
|Tân Mai Church choir's performances attract a large crowd of people at Christmas last year. VNS Photo Phương Mai|
The Tân Mai church is one of the brightest churches in the province. Many churches are decorated with only a few lights and a nativity scene, while other churches are still closed to the public.
Biên Hòa Church of Biên Hòa Parish, one of the oldest and largest churches in the province, with more than 16,000 Catholics, has no bright lights this year.
Hồng Văn Hùng, a parishioner of Biên Hòa Parish for nearly 40 years, said: “I’m really shocked. I haven’t seen this before.”
For many years, Biên Hòa Church has been known as one of the most decorative places in the city, offering music performances of carols. Last year, preparation for Christmas began in November. The church was lit with hundreds of LED lights and stars, and had an elaborate nativity scene outside and inside as well as interesting performances, attracting thousands of local parishioners and visitors to its Christmas service.
However, this year the church has very few decorations, and the entrance is still closed to the public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“This Christmas may be a silent festival. But we Catholics always believe in a bright future, and pray for the end of the pandemic and good blessings for everyone,” Hùng said.
Spreading love and kindness
The Catholic community is always ready to give a helping hand whenever the country and its people need assistance.
During the fourth COVID wave, the Xuân Lộc Diocese sent more than 600 priests, lay sisters and volunteers from July to November to join hands with the local authorities to support frontline medical workers, patients, and people facing difficulties at COVID-19 treatments and quarantine zones in Đồng Nai.
The volunteers provided material and moral support to many COVID-19 patients and medical staff. They also acted as intermediaries between needy people and donors, and between medical workers and priests as a way to reduce the hardships faced by healthcare staff.
In addition, the diocese encouraged its members to give support for pandemic prevention and control, and donate food and other essentials to the needy.
On behalf of the Bishop, Priest Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, a representative of the Xuân Lộc Diocese, has sent thanks to priests, volunteers and donors who have given support to the COVID-19 fight, saying their work is proof of God’s love for people.
“With love, kindness and responsibility, Catholics always strive to connect with the province’s people and authorities to overcome difficulties, and contribute to bringing the people a peaceful life,” the priest said. VNS