Catholics in Vietnam observe Ash Wednesday today, on the eve of their lunar New Year, known as Tet. Bishops have encouraged them to help the poor celebrate this festival as a practical gesture of almsgiving in the first day of the Lent season. The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 8.5 percent in 2007. However, the poverty rate still stands at 14.7 percent. Also, natural disasters including typhoons and flooding killed thousands people and injured thousands others. The country was also facing foot and mouth disease, which killed thousands of animals. Church leaders concern that so many people in Vietnam have to suffer more in Tet when everything costs much more than normal. They fear that some even do not have enough food for their daily meals. In Hai Phong, Fr John Baptist Vu Van Kien reported that the diocese had launched a charity plan to give 6,000 kg of rice to poor families in the province. Charity groups in parishes helped distribute in the metro and in the rural areas. "The amount of rice to be distributed to each family was not a whole lot", said Vincent Kien from Hai Phong, "but by sharing this gift with the poor, the underprivileged, the bishop and his priests had brought warmth to their hearts as much as food to their stomachs, especially during the last days of the lunar new year when the weather is cold and families are gathering to celebrate the coming of a new year." Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong, sent gifts to leprosy patients at Chi Linh Leprosarium in Hai Duong province during the upcoming Tet festival. Also, "Recycle for Humanity", a volunteer group, working actively in the diocese, will bring gifts to HIV patients, poor families and children who are attending classes funded and operated by the diocese. It has become a tradition in the diocese that everyone, every family is trying to do good deeds to others as a way to welcome the New Year, bringing nas much happiness and warmth to the poor and the sick as possible. In Thai Binh diocese, Bishop Francis Nguyen Van Sang has urges his faithful to promote social and charitable works in the Tet festival. "Every parish", he said "would participate in this project by observing and making a list of families in need. Subsequently a visit to these families will be made in order to provide them with material and or spiritual assistance they truly need. Also being highly encouraged is the participation in movements beneficial to social welfare such as building houses for the needy, aiding the flood victims, visiting patients with HIV". Hoa Trang
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