At the Redemptorist monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh gives elderly veterans wheelchairs and crutches.
Over the years, the priests have helped some 5,000 Republic of Vietnam war veterans in Ho Chi Minh City with free medical check, as well as material and economic aid. The initiative was launched in collaboration with a Buddhist pagoda. The former soldiers, wounded during the war, have been abandoned by the Communist government. “I lost my leg in battle and only after 40 years I got an adequate prosthesis thanks to the Redemptorist Fathers,” said one veteran.
(Ho Chi Minh City) – About a hundred former soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam were welcomed on Monday at the “House of peace and justice” run by the Redemptorist Fathers in Ho Chi Minh City for a day of free medical services.
Organised in collaboration with local Buddhist monks, the initiative began years ago. This year, there have been 11 such days.
The veterans come from several southern provinces like Bến Tre, Anh Giang, Can Tho and Binh Dương. They fought for the pro-American former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), which was defeated by the North Vietnamese army in 1975 that reunified the country.
The Communist government left these soldiers to fend for themselves despite the serious wounds and injuries sustained in battle. Now they are unable to earn a living and are thus forced to beg.
The medical services provided by the Redemptorist Fathers include psychological tests, regular medical care, and free transport to appropriate facilities.
Over time, the charity has drawn the attention of several Vietnamese citizens, who now come from distant areas to help the scarred veterans materially and economically.
“I was an Army Ranger. I was wounded in battle in 1970,” said Nguyễn Tấn P. “I heard about the House of peace and justice run by the Redemptorists in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City’s old name) when the Fathers invited me for medical tests.”
“The priests gave me a device to measure my pressure and a wheelchair. Now I am happy because they have supported me and helped me and my family deal with disease and poverty.”
Nguyễn Văn is another veteran getting help. Born in 1952, he lost a leg in the war. Abandoned by the government in poverty, he lived for years with a wooden prosthesis he made himself, which did not allow him to perform normal work.
“It’s been 41 years walking with this wooden leg,” he said. “Initially it weighed about 8 kilos and I had to go to work in the rice fields, but it was very heavy. Only now I got a light prosthesis from the Redemptorist Fathers.”
Fr Anthony, one of the priests, explains the difficulty these veterans lived with for decades.
“We started this project because we saw them in poverty, torn by guilt, abandoned and excluded by society,” the clergyman said.
“This programme helps them not only physically but also encourages and supports them on a mental level. We try to treat the wounded veterans in the soul because they have been labelled [soldiers of] a puppet army.”
The Redemptorists launched the initiative in collaboration with Liên Trì Buddhist pagoda, which left the organisation to them in 2013.
“Right now with this programme we have helped about 5,000 Republic of Vietnam veterans to whom we are very grateful,” said Fr Paul Lộc, responsible for the administration.
“That is a pretty high number. Now we have to develop our activities to help specific cases the best way.”