YÊU NHƯNG KHÔNG

Còn đâu câu hát “Sài Gòn đẹp lắm, Sài Gòn ơi, Sài Gòn ơi…”, chưa bao giờ và cũng chưa năm nào Sài Gòn thê lương như năm nay. Dịch về hoành hành dữ dội làm đảo lộn cuộc sống của bao người. Những nỗi đau còn đó, những nỗi buồn còn vương trên mi mắt cay. Chút gì còn đọng lại nếu không là tình Chúa, tình người cho nhau, trong nhau.
Người về quê bị cách li tại nhà thì than thở nhưng dù sao cũng còn hạnh phúc hơn những người ở lại. Những dịp đến các dãy trọ trong xóm gửi chút rau chút quà cho những anh chị em công nhân tôi mới thấy mình còn quá hạnh phúc mặc dù xóm tôi cũng bị giăng dây kẽm gai gần hai tháng. Những dãy trọ sâu hun hút và tối, trời mưa thì ẩm thấp, trời nóng thì oi nồng. Họ có nhà nhưng không thể về vì bị kẹt lại, công việc làm cũng không.
Ngồi nhặt nhạnh lại chút rau củ là tình thương của những ân thân nhân gần xa gửi đến nhà Dòng, chưa bao giờ tôi thấy quý trọng từng cọng rau cái củ như lúc này. Lúc đầu, chúng tôi chỉ có thể chia sẻ cho một vài phòng trọ bị phong tỏa sát vách nhà nguyện mà thôi vì hẻm mình cũng bị giăng kẽm gai rồi.
Cái tình bé mọn ấy nhớ nhau san sẻ cho nhau trong âm thầm ý nhị. Dần dà quý sơ và các ân nhân biết đến đã hỗ trợ thêm chút rau củ cho nhà Dòng để từ đây cái tình được san sẻ rộng ra cả hẻm khoảng hơn 130 phòng trọ và gửi đi các hẻm khác mà hầu hết đều họ là lương dân. Vâng, là tình cho không như Thiên Chúa đã cho chúng ta cách nhưng không tình yêu của Ngài. Tình đã trao nhưng không cũng muốn biếu không cho người đồng loại dù không cùng tôn giáo với nhau.
“Em thầy gì ơi…” giọng một chị nhỏ nhẹ, e dè, sau khi nhận bịch rau củ chúng tôi gửi tặng.
“Nhà thầy em có bí đỏ không cho chị xin một trái nhỏ, xóm trọ này có 4 bà mẹ nuôi con mọn mà hết sữa, cũng không mua được bí đỏ nấu cháo cho các cháu…” Chợt thấy khóe mắt cay cay, sao mà đơn sơ quá, họ chẳng xin gì, chỉ khép nép xin một trái bí đỏ.
Rồi tình thương lại nối tiếp tình thương, nhờ sự quan phòng của Thiên Chúa và qua bàn tay của quý ân nhân, các ngài đã giúp cho nhà Dòng vài trăm phần quà, tuy bé nhỏ thôi nhưng ấm lòng. Tôi thấy niềm vui nhảy cẫng trong mắt, trong lòng những anh chị em nhận được quà hôm nay mặc dù phần quà chẳng lớn nhưng thấy được ánh mắt, nụ cười, lòng tôi lại quặn thắt. Sài Gòn đẹp nhưng cũng độc thật.
Dẫu sợ lắm dịch bệnh không biết ập đến lúc nào nhưng được tình yêu Đức Kitô thúc bách, chúng tôi vẫn mạnh dạn ra đi và vẫn tuân thủ qui tắc 5K phòng dịch. Cái tình Thiên Chúa đã trao trọn vẹn và Ngài cũng mời gọi chúng tôi cho đi trọn vẹn mối tình ấy. Nguyện xin tình yêu của Thánh Tâm Chúa Giêsu cũng phủ lấp nỗi sợ hãi trong chúng con, để chúng con sống đơn sơ làm chứng cho Chúa giữa đời thường hôm nay. Xin Chúa thương chúc lành cho các ân thân nhân của chúng con và cho bà con mau thoát cơn nguy hiểm này. Amen.

Ban Truyền Thông SCJ

Love Given Without Expecting Any Return

What happens to the famously moving song “O Saigon my Beautiful City!”? I simply can’t believe that Saigon, my beautiful city, would one day be so dreary as it has been this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the lives of many people upside down. The pain is just so palpable everywhere, and the effects of this long suffering can be seen weighing down heavy on people’s faces. For us believers, what is left of this once bustling city, if not love? I am not only speaking of human love, which seems to pull people together and unite them in their perceived common fate, but also of divine love, which is the real driving force behind so much goodness and beauty, the true crown of this glorious city.
As the pandemic rages through the big metropolis, many migrants were able to get out in time and return to their home safely. While they would then lament their isolation and self–quarantine state, but they knew in their hearts that they were far more fortunate than those who were stuck in the city, or do not have any other home to return to. On many occasions, as I whizzled my way through the narrow streets of Saigon’s poorest neighborhoods on my scooter, bringing food and vegetables to poor migrant workers, I suddenly realized how blessed I was. Despite the fact that my Congregation’s main house has been locked up behind barbed wires for nearly two months in the city’s effort to contain the spread of the virus, my fellow priests, religious and I were still able to have some degree of comfort and security in a decent living space. Meanwhile, so many others had to cuddle up in tiny, dark and damp studios or apartments nestled deep inside windy passageways, suffering from both the muggy climate and the scorching summer heat with little room to move about. Since most workers in this big city depended on daily work, the pandemic has essentially robbed them of their livelihood. There was no public assistance program or any social benefit available for most of them. The situation appears bleaker and bleaker each day, as the pandemic continues to ravage the poor population.
The human love evident among so many people of goodwill in the city has been quite inspiring. While there is so much human need, there is also no lack of genuine human care and concern as people rally their generosity to assist the poor. Picking the fresh vegetables and fruits that benefactors and friends of our Congregation sent to our community, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude. I felt grateful for every single piece of those edibles. I gave thanks for the people who did not forget us even as they suffer the same pandemic. I rejoice knowing that I am part of a larger Church that suddenly feels so close, so intimate, so united like never before. The feeling was really a renewed appreciation for the human capacity to love. At the same time, I am convinced that such human love, no matter how noble and strong, would not last for long if it were not first motivated by divine love. In other words, I believe that it is he love of God that keeps motivating people to give, to reach out, to care for one another and for total strangers in need. It is that love which raises ordinary human interactions to a new level of meaning and purpose. It is a kind of disinterested love, uniquely Christian, powerful and transformative. I see this love in the ways in which priests, religious men and women, lay faithful of all walks of life, give themselves unreservedly in the service of the sick, the poor, the elderly and the orphans. I see it in the ways in which ordinary people not only give what is extra to them, but also what is essential to their own livelihood. I see it in the way people keep giving without expecting anything in return. And I cannot explain the motivation for their love apart from faith. I know that the extraordinary capacity to love that I have witnessed these days must be divine in nature.
As the pandemic becomes more widespread, with no sign of slowing down in sight, something even more remarkable happens. Instead of growing weary, impatient and stingy, people who are devout in their Catholic faith become even more fervent, more generous and more active in their charitable works. In our case, some religious sisters and lay benefactors even increased their assistance to our community by giving us more vegetables, cooking oil, rice, fish sauce and instant noodles. At one point, we received so much more than needed, and with such generous supply of food, we could share with hundreds of residents who live side by side along a dingy alley of more than one hundred and thirty tiny boarding rooms. Most of these were not Catholics. Seeing their expressions of gratitude when receiving our food bags, I could not help but believe that there is something very godly in this act of sharing.
“Pardon me, brother, may I ask you for something?” I heard a small, timid voice from a young woman who was standing in line to receive a package of vegetables from us. “Would you by chance have a pumpkin, even a small one? I have four children in this room here, but I am running out of milk and have no more money to buy a pumpkin in order to prepare a bowl of congee soup for them.” Suddenly, my eyes were stinging with tears. This woman did not ask for much. She only wanted a small pumpkin to feed her children. The sense of suffering, and the sense of unity in suffering, was suddenly so real to me. I felt compelled to give. And I was glad to give from my heart, from my own pocket, not from the extra food that others have given me to give. I felt a deep sense of meaning and satisfaction ministering to the poor. I felt that I was giving them more than just human compassion. I was giving them God’s love.
Love begets love. Thanks to God’s providence through our benefactors, our Congregation has been provided with sufficient food supply. From the start of the pandemic and its subsequent quarantine throughout the city, we have received at least a few hundred gifts, many of them small, but very heartwarming. Each time when I joined my brother priests and religious to distribute those same gifts to those who were less fortunate than we, I felt a tremendous joy in my heart. My rewards have been the jubilant smile and the bright sparkles in people’s eyes when they received those small gifts from us. This is the true beauty of Saigon, I thought to myself. This is the beauty of this great city, the beauty that can only be seen from within. My city, though appearing weary, deserted and forlorn after weeks of the raging pandemic, as if a plague has passed by, is still resilient, noble and beautiful. It is still worthy of its nick name as the “Pearl of the Orient”, because of the people who live in it.
The pandemic will most likely remain with us for some time, causing some to panic and quite a few to withdraw into their safe havens. We who are people of faith are nevertheless urged on by the love of Christ to boldly go out to the poor and provide Christian outreach to those living in the peripheries. This is not motivated solely by human love. It is the love of God that is behind all our actions. As God has given us himself in Christ, freely and completely, and has invited us to do the same to others, so we must do. My prayer is that our Congregation’s particular love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus may cast away all our fears, so that we can courageously bear witness to who we are and what we believe in the face of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic! Ultimately, I pray that in loving and expecting nothing in return, we Dehonians will be able to show the world the merciful face of God. In that way, we will become the very people that make Saigon, my great city, ever beautiful from within. Amen.

SCJ Communication Team