Catechist Gabriel A Kieu is proud of looking after a jar of Easter water placed under the altar in his home.
“The jar of Easter water represents the Risen Christ who is with us,” said Kieu, an ethnic Se Dang from Kon Dau Yop village in Kon Tum province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Villagers carried the jar containing 20 liters of Easter water the five kilometers from Kon Hring parish house to Kieu’s home after an Easter Vigil Mass on March 31.
During the open-air ceremony attended by 5,000 people, Father Francis Xavier Le Tien, pastor of Kon Hring parish, lowered the Easter candle into 15 terracotta jars of water and raised it again while he blessed them. Before the Mass, villagers decorated jars of water with flowers and colorful ribbons and placed them on the sanctuary.
“The Risen Christ is the water of life. We bring water to our villages so that we can have a better life as He wants us,” Father Tien told the congregation.
Then worshippers with candles in hands queued according to their villages and marched behind Easter candles and jars of Easter water carried by young men.
Kieu, 53, said villagers carried the jars to their villages and put them in chapels. His village has no chapel so people put the jar in his home, where villagers daily gather to say prayers and attend monthly Masses celebrated by the parish priest.
The 127-year-old parish with some 10,000 ethic Se Dang and 500 ethnic Kinh consists of 15 villages. Most make a meager living by cultivating rice, rubber, coffee and other crops.
Some villages have chapels while others have no chapel and people have to gather at family homes for prayer.
Kieu’s wife Thoan said villagers use blessed water for baptism, blessing new houses, graves and in other services.
“We esteem Easter water that feeds our souls while normal water is used for our material life,” she said.
Kieu said ancestors gave offerings to the god of water. Before the rainy season arrived, they cleared grass, trees and garbage around sources of groundwater and streams, and replaced old bamboo pipes.
They killed cattle and had shamans to offer them to the god of water.
When foreign missionaries introduced Catholicism to villages in the 19th century, they encouraged villagers to stop offering cattle to the god of water. “Instead missionaries blessed sources of water at New Year and put a cross at main sources reminding people of Christ, the water of life,” the catechist said.
Villagers also took water from sources on the evening of the recent Easter Vigil ceremonies.
Kieu, a father of 10, said during the Vietnam War parish facilities including the old church were ruined by bombs and Catholics protected sources of water and practiced faith without priests for years.
In recent years, priests restored the tradition. They annually bless sources at New Year and place new crosses at the sources.
Since 2014 Father Tien has asked villagers to solemnly carry Easter candles and water in processions to their villages.
Kieu said the tradition reminds people of respecting and protecting sources of water and the environment.