Sr. Cecilia Nguyen looks forward to returning to her native country, Vietnam, each summer and/or during Christmas time when possible, to share God’s blessings with struggling families in Vietnam. She fled from Vietnam as a child along with her family as refugees after the Communist regime took over the country in 1975. Since 1995 Sr. Cecilia has been faithful in returning to her beloved country each summer for about four weeks so that she could, in imitation of Jesus, “bring glad tidings to the poor” (Luke 4:18).
Last Christmas, Sr. Cecilia and her community were able to share 900 packages of foods with 900 indigenous Montagnard families in Pleiku and Kontum, central Vietnam. Each package of “Christmas Smiles” food contains 10 pounds of rice, one box of 30 bags of instant noodle, one jar of cooking oil, one jar of soy sauce, one jar of fish oil and three pounds of sugar.
Each package of foods may seem of little value to us, but for the poor of Vietnam, they brought great joy. “I am profoundly grateful to God and to our benefactors in the United States who are very generous in sharing these blessings with the marginalized people of Vietnam. These experiences of being with the poor of Vietnam help me realize that being in solidarity with the poor is not just about performing sporadic acts of charity here and there, but is also about having a mindset that is consciously aware that for poverty and all kinds of oppression to cease, we must work on changing these oppressive structures,” Sr. Cecilia said.
“With the presence of Communism in Vietnam, it is a challenge for religious leaders to work together for change for the sake of the poor. “We pray and continue to hope that better days will come for the poor of Vietnam. For now, we could at least bring them some joy through the sharing of our Christmas Smiles foods and Bicycle Program with these poor families.”
Beside the Christmas Smiles food program, Sr. Cecilia is also an active advocate for children and teens from struggling families in Vietnam through the Bicycle Program. She and her community have shared more than 1,000 bicycles donated by generous friends and donors here in the United States. In July 2018 they shared 300 bicycles in Ben Tre (South Vietnam) and Nha Trang (central Vietnam) so students can commute to school. There are no school buses in Vietnam, and students, especially those living in remote villages, must walk long distances to get to school. Sr. Cecilia recently resumed her studies at Oblate School of Theology for a Doctor of Ministry with a concentration on Spirituality. Upon completion of her studies at OST, she hopes to work as a Director of Religious Education at a Catholic parish either in San Antonio or Austin. And of course, she will continue to return to Vietnam each summer “to be in solidarity with the poor.”