Over 400 ethnic-Hmong Catholics in Vietnam left stranded by flash floods that destroyed their homes and roads leading to their remote community received a visit from a local auxiliary bishop in late July to rekindle their hope of a better tomorrow.
The relentless weather also robbed them of their parish church and washed away their crops and possessions, leaving many fearing for the future.
But the situation brightened after Auxiliary Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long from Hung Hoa Diocese paid a pastoral visit to Sung Do sub-parish in Van Chan District of northwestern Yen Bai province on July 27 to console the victims and urge them to not lose faith as they rebuild their lives.
He made a similar trip to remote mountain villages in nearby Son La province in May 2017 to celebrate Easter with ethnic Hmong Catholics in seven villages there, who number over 1,000.
The 65-year-old, who was assisted this July by two priests and other clergy, trekked 20 kilometers along muddy paths when the road became too treacherous to attempt by motorbike before he reached their outlying subparish.
As Bishop Long approached, scores of Catholics braved the rain to welcome him and help the visitors wade through the knee-deep mud.
Later they enjoyed a special Mass together in the house of a local lay leader, with many people having to gather outside due to the limited size of the wooden property.
“Today we come here to express our deep love and sympathy for all of you, who have suffered losses and distress caused by the flash floods,” Bishop Long told the congregation.
The prelate urged them to “trust in the providence of God, not blame Him, because He always loves, comforts and offers you what you need at the right moment.”
“We must plead with God to give us enough strength to overcome difficult challenges and return to normal life as soon as possible,” he said.
Bishop Long said the diocese would seek donations to build them a new church.
“We are very happy to receive Bishop Long and the other visitors,” said Joseph Giang A Thao, a subparish council member.
“No one else has come to visit us yet because all of the roads are in need of repair and the rains continue unabated.”
The Hmong are a sub-group of the Miao in China who started migrating to Southeast Asia from the 18th century. Some 4 million live in Asia including 2.7 million in China, with the rest in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.
In Van Chan District, the residents had been isolated since July 20 when heavy rains destroyed five of their houses, the chapel and other public facilities.
Father Joseph Nguyen Trong Duong, who provides pastoral activities for the subparish, said Bishop Long offered 100 million dong (US$4,340) as emergency aid to those whose houses had collapsed and crops washed away.
Father Duong said local people were in dire need of food, clothes, money and other basic supplies to survive.
One family of 13 whose home was destroyed have been camping at their neighbors until a better solution is found, he said.
The worst floods recorded in the last four decades have so far claimed 39 lives with many more missing and displaced in Yen Bai province, according to government figures.