Easter even in Saigon

George, who has lived in South East Asia for 28 years, between Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, spent Easter in Saigon. We publish the story he sent us.

Easter is now over: today is Easter Monday and it’s a normal working day. It’s really hot and the rain is menacing the skies. It is only the Christians who are feasting. Here and there one can hear the cheering and the cries of Alleluia seeping out from the homes. And yet I’m in a Communist country. But as one goes out of the church, the streets are filled with the incredible sound of motorbikes blocking the traffic. The police in front of the cathedral have to direct the traffic.

In order to take part in the Easter Triduum, one has to arrive 30 minutes before to find a place. In church I leave the bag on the bench and nobody touches it. I look at the people: many children, young people, couples and the elderly with their sober but smiling faces. I think of Europe, of the half-empty churches even on feast days.

In these parts, even at 5 o’clock in the morning of any day, children, even small ones, together with the adults are in the first rows to sing. Here, everyone knows the prayers and the hymns by heart. In Saigon every corner is swarmed in a disorderly and nearly savage life. Yet, there is a lot of faith, perhaps as in no other Asian city. Because here faith comes at a cost.

Everything costs in Vietnam. Some time ago I made a journey by bus, five and a half hours with a throng of people and in the heat. At a certain point quintals of Indian maize were loaded onto the bus among the travellers, dragged underfoot into the baggage compartment. The people started to scream whilst the driver and his assistant shouted at them to shut up. A lady near me who felt embarrassed at seeing me in that confusion, told me: “Life here is hard. Don’t forget it if you want to live here”.

I don’t know that lady’s name and perhaps I’ll never see her again. But those words opened a new dimension within me. Life, theirs as well as mine, has to pass through pain, weariness, suffering, to then flow with joy. I understood her this way. From that day everything in me was simplified. Like everybody, I experience joy, but also pain and fatigue. I am one of them. I’m not even considered special because I’m a foreigner, but just one among many foreigners.

The story of that Man who hung from a cross, similar to those of many people I meet each day, reminds me of the words of that lady. I can find it in the poor who have nothing, in the sick man with a tumour, with bones jutting out from his ribs, who has no money to cure himself. Or in that lady, Giau, 64, who though poor, adopted a Down Syndrome child who had been literally thrown out by the parents. And yet, it’s Easter. Even for the Rohingya refugees, living between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

It’s Easter in North Korea which seeks peace after having fired missiles. It’s Easter amongst the allied troops who are preparing for the umpteenth drill. It’s Easter for the children of Xang Cut, in the delta zone of Mikong, where the water is still infested through Agent Orange, thrown by the allies 40 years ago.

And it’s Easter for the children of Saigon, gathered from the streets and given education by the teachers of Pho. They will have something to eat thanks to their heroic love. Even here, in the midst of many challenges, dangers, widespread pollution and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, someone continues to smile, because they are loved and helped by a friendly hand. This is Easter: taking care of others, relieving their pain, sharing their tears. The world, the other, belongs to me. And my happiness passes through that of others, of many others.