Sixth Sunday of the Year
12 February 2012
Notre Dame Cathedral
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in Vietnam
It is a great privilege for me to accept an invitation to concelebrate Mass this morning in this fine Cathedral in Ho Chi Min City. I am also deeply honoured by the invitation to address you, knowing that I am speaking to many English speaking people from different parts of the world who have come to live and work here. And this includes too young Irishmen, who are past-pupils of mine at St. Macartan’s College in Monaghan, Ireland.
The people of Ireland feel a certain kinship with the people of Vietnam. You are surrounded by nations which have greater strength in numbers and in resources than yourselves. Many of them visited you in a rather unfriendly manner; and there were a number of colonial powers who looked over the wall into your orchard, and liked what they saw. It could be said that, like the Irish people, you were tormented by visitors overstaying their welcome. There are people in Ireland who would tell you how their now nearest and dearest neighbours, the English, overstayed their welcome by up to seven hundred years. We have taken some interest in your history, and have admired the courage and determination which your people have shown over the years in the face of war and of many kinds of adversity.
I arrived yesterday, for the first time, to set foot on Vietnamese soil. I came with a group of twenty-five cyclists from Ireland. They call themselves the Willow Wheelers because they were founded in Willow Park School in Dublin. This is a Catholic school established by the Holy Ghost Fathers, the junior brother of a more senior and even more famous school called Blackrock College. This cycling club, as well as providing recreational facilities of a physical nature to young and old, parent and child, has a strong social and benevolent dimension in that it supports missionary projects in many parts of the world from Brazil to Ethiopia.
Many of you will know that the Spiritans, or the Holy Ghost Fathers, are working here in this city and are held in high respect. The presence of 25 members of the Willow Wheelers Cycling Club here is a gesture to say we are interested in the welfare of the Christian people in Vietnam and that we are willing to assist in any way we can in supporting worthwhile projects that will improve the quality of life for your people. I must hasten to add that, in acting as a mouthpiece for the club, I am neither founder, nor leader but more of a mascot. The club was founded and is still led by my brother.
In Ireland, we had a dreadful famine in the eighteen forties, largely due to the failure of the potato crop, which was the staple diet of our people at the time. The ‘famine fever’, which accompanied it, was dreaded as much as the hunger itself, because it was highly contagious. Fr. Peter O’Laoire wrote a book called ‘Mo Sceál Feín’, and described how even close neighbours would not enter the homes of those suspected of having famine fever. Having the fever meant exclusion and usually death of all kinds up to physical death.
Sr. Marie, a Servite nun, who nursed HIV and aids patients in more recent times said, “I really feel that this is an area where God’s unconditional love can be shown so tangibly, without the need for any preaching, just by being there and showing compassion, helping them to discover a dignity in what is, so often, a very undignified illness.”
In biblical times leprosy was believed to be highly contagious. Lepers were forced to live outside the community and were known as the untouchables. Theirs was a cold lonely existence. They had said good-bye to home, family and friends. Once they were somebody in life, now they were nobody. Their life was a living death.
This was the kind of man who approached Jesus. He was determined to meet the one man who would surely not reject him. Jesus took pity on him, reached out and touched him. Most of us recoil from the very sick and the very poor. Physical contact can give the sick and wounded a sense of warmth and joy. By the very act of touching another person, we accept that person exactly as they are. Jesus touched lepers, sinners, sick people and even the dead. By touching the leper, Jesus healed his wounded spirit as well as his body.
Kindness may be just as important to the sick as medicine. People always remember if they were treated kindly by doctors and nurses. Jesus reached out a loving and healing hand. He challenges us, his followers, to do the same; to reach out to all those people society rejects, whether they be Ireland’s famine victims, people devastated by wars such as those your own people experienced, or the people the Willow Wheelers try to reach out to in their fund raising and assistance.
Its amazing what we can all do for others, whether we are Vietnamese or Irish, Muslin, Buddhist, Hindu or Christian. We can all rekindle hope, give back a zest for living, restore dignity and self-respect. We can mirror however dimly the love of God to one another.
+Liam S. MacDaid