Ordination of Alfredo Medina Ramos

May 27th, 2021 will be written as a very special day in the Chronicles of the Province.  The setting for this special day is Zacatecas, Mexico and the Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady.  The church is a world heritage site and thousands of tourists come yearly to see its unique architecture.  The original church was built in 1568 and the present Cathedral dates from 1752.

It’s a balmy 31 degrees and the Neo-Spanish Baroque Cathedral Basilica dominates the historic centre of the city.  As the noon Angelus bells ring, attention focuses on the procession that began at the entrance of the church.

Everyone in the procession is wearing a mask, a reminder that we are still in a pandemic.  The people in the pews are also wearing masks but this does not stop the enthusiastic singing of an opening hymn.  At the end of the procession walking in front of the Bishop is our deacon, Alfredo.

The interior of the Cathedral is simple yet striking.  Large Doric columns line the nave and the front of the building.  The massive altar dominates the sanctuary while a modern altar piece rises majestically against the front wall.  On it are various sculptures of saints, topped by a magnificent sculpture of the Assumption and above Our Lady is a picture of the Trinity looking down on the People of God.


The bishop, Siegfried Noriega Barceló (pictured at right), began with a warm welcome to the large number of clergy present, to the Redemptorists, to

the family of Alfredo, the people of Malpaso (Alfredo’s hometown), visitors from near and far and those watching on the internet. The bishop also spoke about his own personal connection to the Redemptorists.  His mother had a great devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  He was inspired by the Mexican Redemptorists prior to his ordination and had Redemptorists teaching him when he studied in Rome.

The bishop set a tone of formality but also created a prayerful and relaxed celebration.  In his homily he spoke of the ordination as a “great fiesta” for the Church.  He reminded us that we had just celebrated Pentecost, a celebration of the birth of the Church, the presence of the Holy Spirit.  At the heart of the Church is the Eucharist.  He talked about the priesthood of the faithful and how certain individuals were chosen to exercise our common priesthood in a special way particularly as a celebrant of the Eucharist.  Christ, through the hands of the priest, comes to be our food.  The priest in turn is to be food for the people through his service.  He is the presence of God announcing the Gospel of Jesus and the reign of God. In short, the priest’s mission is to be Eucharist.

The rite of ordination began with the presentation of Alfredo to the bishop by Fr. Carlos Flores Rodríguez C.Ss.R., Provincial Councillor, a delegate of Fr. Charles Duval, our provincial.  Fr. Rodríguez affirmed that Alfredo was a worthy candidate for ordination.  The bishop confirmed this vocation and called Alfredo to the order of ministerial priesthood.

First, were a series of questions addressed to Alfredo beginning with the question if ordination was something Alfredo wanted.  In a clear voice Alfredo replied, “Quiero, si.”  “Yes I want/wish (it).”  Before the prayer of consecration Alfredo was robed in his chasuble by his mother.  In a touching scene Alfredo in his new chasuble knelt before his mother and she imparted her blessing and kissed him.  It seemed to symbolically mean that she, on behalf of the family, was blessing him and releasing him to the Church.

The rite of ordination proceeded with the imposition of hands and the anointing of Alfredo’s hands.  After the ritual Alfredo joined the Bishop and concelebrants at the altar. The Eucharist continued and concluded with Fr. Rodriguez thanking the bishop on behalf of Fr. Charles and the Redemptorists.  He also thanked Alfredo’s family for this gift to the Church and our Congregation.  In reply, Alfredo also offered a brief thank you to all.

We are grateful for the gift of Alfredo.  This has been a long journey for him and we are appreciative for the gift of perseverance.  We hope that he will find great joy in his priestly ministry and find that he can truly be “Father” Alfredo to many.

The closing hymn seemed highly appropriate and a reflection of Alfredo’s journey.  A translation of the refrain would be: “Here I am Lord, take me, a priest I want to be forever.”

You can watch the ordination on the Diocese of  Zacatecas’ facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=496296728489989&ref=watch_permalink.



Investiture in the Novitiate

By Fr. Ray Douziech, C.Ss.R.


March 15th, the feast of St Clement Mary Hofbauer was a special day of celebration in the house of formation.  We not only remembered St Clement but we also had the Investiture of the habit for our three novices.


We were pleased to have Fr. Provincial, Fr. Charles, with us.  He offered us an inspiring reflection on the sanctity of St Clement and a reminder from St Alphonsus that we join the congregation to become saints.  St Clement became a saint in his time and we have to become saints in today’s world.  We do so as individuals and as a community, striving ever more to preach the Gospel anew.  Fr Charles pointed out that the concept “anew” implies not only adaptation but also innovation.  We have to continually strive to bring the Gospel message a-new to our brothers and sisters today, as St Clement did in his day.


Fr Charles challenged the novices who were receiving the habit.  This investiture is a step on the road to profession as a Redemptorist.  It is owning a symbol of what we strive for as Redemptorists as messengers of hope to a wounded world.  At the same time, it is also frightening to wear a habit because it reminds the wearer of the need for integrity when preaching the Gospel. We must be what we claim to be.


Wearing the habit, Fr. Ray, the novice director, reminded the novices is like the towel Jesus wore when he washed his apostle’s feet; it is a sign of service, a declaration that we are putting on the Servant Christ.  It is taking on an identity that draws us to the heart of the Mission of Jesus, to bring good news to the poor.  It is an identity that says “Here I am, I serve, I am sent, I walk with.”


The novices were assisted in putting on the habit and rosary by the professed members of the community.  Each novice had made their rosary and putting it on proved to be harder than it seemed – even with the frustration of a broken chain,  which situation Brother Raymond rescued by loaning his own rosary.  Once the novices were vested we proceeded with prayers for each one, prayers for our congregation and for its leadership.  The Eucharist was a special celebration and a thanksgiving for our Canadian province.  The presence of our Candidates also witnessing the investiture was an inspiration for their own journey. The chapel radiated with joy and the click of a multitude of photos.


A Joyful Day with the Lord!

By Fr. Ray Douziech, C.Ss.R.

On September 03, 2020, Alfredo Medina-Ramos was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Robert Kasun, CSB, auxiliary Bishop of Toronto in a moving ceremony at St. Patrick’s National Shrine Church.  Even though protocols were in place because of the pandemic, these did not take away from the celebrative mood, the solemnity yet intimacy of the ceremony.


With the adept master of ceremonies, Fr. Paul Dobson, all the elements of the ordination were flawlessly choreographed.  Dr. Robin Williams played the pipe organ with Amado Amarante as the soloist.  The formation house provided the reader and altar servers (Benedict Nicholas as reader, Noel Bustillos, Andrew Phillips and Mark Suezo as altar servers).  Fr. Charles Duval, the provincial, called Alfredo to the altar while Fr. Ray Douziech declared the worthiness of Alfredo to be raised to this sacred order.

The Redemptorists were well represented.  We were scattered throughout the church with appropriate social distancing and masks.  In all there were 14 Redemptorists from St. Patrick’s community and from the House of Formation.  Office staff from the Formation House and St Patrick’s and Lay Associates were dispersed through the pews as were a good number of parishioners.  Alfredo had invited some friends from the Spanish parish, San Juan Bautista, as well as the pastor Fr. Jose David Peres Florez.  Fr. David had given Alfredo an alb and a beautiful deacon stole as a gift from the parish.

Alfredo’s family could not come but Alfredo was thrilled to hear that his mother, siblings and their families did gather to watch the ordination live-streamed through Facebook. Gabriel Ciang did the videography while Noel Oco provided ample photos for great memories.

All in all, the day turned out to be impressive and unforgettable.  We all rejoice with Alfredo that his long journey to priesthood has finally come this far.  He is well prepared for the office of deacon and is ready to be of service to the Church and the Congregation here in Canada.  Deacon Alfredo begins ministry in St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon on October 1, 2020.

The Ordination Mass can be viewed here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zHI6jzD1FpNN_x6xktIX0_5riSh3K42E/view?usp=sharing_eil&ts=5f5196fe



Novitiate Year Begins in Lima, Ohio

2019-2020 Novitiate Community in the Redemptorist Chapel, Lima, Ohio: (Left to Right) Dai Ho, Joseph Nguyen, Steven Urban, Fr. Ed Eherer, C.Ss.R. (Director of Novices), Fr. Chuong Cao, C.Ss.R. (Assistant Director of Novices), Vinh Nguyen, Jose Montoya and Bao Tran.  

Although July 24, 2019 marked the official start of the 2019-2020 North American Redemptorist novitiate, the launch was the result of several months of sometimes-hectic preparations to get the Lima house in order, in particular the third floor where the six novices would be living.  Major renovations were done in several bathrooms, new floors were installed in a some of the bedrooms, and furnishings purchased for bedrooms and common spaces.  The kitchen was also renovated with new appliances installed (stove, fridge, freezer, and dishwasher).  Kudos to Fr. Jack Kingsbury CSsR (Conference Coordinator for North America), Kevin Devine (Baltimore facilities manager), Fathers Mike Sergi CSsR, Jim Szabonya CSsR, and Mike Houston CSsR, the parish staff, and numerous parish volunteers for all their help in getting the house ship-shape.  In addition, the two Directors of Novices (Ed Eherer CSsR and Chuong Cao CSsR) spent the better part of a week picking up supplies, stocking the house pantry, and procuring hardware, houseware, software and any other kind of ware you could imagine.  I’m convinced that Fr. Chuong is now on a first-name basis with the staff at the local Sam’s Club.

On July 22, the novices finally arrived – two young men from the Denver Province (Jose Montoya from Houston, and Steven Urban from Salina, Kansas) and four from the Extra-patriam Vice-province (Dai Ho and Vinh Nguyen from Houston, and Joseph Nguyen and Bao Tran from Portland, Oregon).  After taking a day or so to settle in, we were ready to start on July 24.  We gathered in the house chapel to celebrate the Eucharist and officially inaugurate the new novitiate year.  Fr. Jack Kingsbury presided and offered the novices some words of wisdom on this most auspicious day.  We were also joined by Fr. Joseph, the formation director of the Extra-patriam Vice-province who had accompanied his novices to Lima.

The first few days involved typical orientation stuff – getting acquainted, filling out forms, looking at schedules, household nuts and bolts, and so on.  We also had the chance to check out a couple of attractions in the area:  the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum (in his hometown of Wapokaneta - first picture below) and the Ohio Caverns (near Zanesville - second picture below).

Once the dust has settled, we will be having our opening retreat in nearby Sylvania under Fr. Jack Kingsbury’s direction.  Then it’s “getting down to brass tacks,” as the saying goes.  I must say that in the short time we have been together, I’ve encountered a great spirit of openness and generosity.  These will be important ingredients in making for a successful year.  Add to that a good measure of prayer.

At the Shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré

By Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R.

Grace and peace abound, for those who make the pilgrimage to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré for her novena and the feast day on the 26th of July.  I invite vocation inquirers to come and work side by side with Redemptorists at this time of year.  These men lead prayers, give short testimonies, do some manual labour, experience common prayer and meals in a community, and meet Redemptorists and pilgrims from around the world.  This year we worked alongside Fr. Douglas James who deepened our understanding of the times, symbols, and language of Jesus, and of his disciples.  Fr. Douglas is from a diocese in Sri Lanka.  We also  were blessed to meet **four Redemptorists from Burkina Fasso; and a diocesan priest from Burkina Fasso.

Of course it was not all work.  Here we are enjoying ice cream at the end of the evening candlelight procession. From left to right are:  Nick (inquirer from Nova Scotia) Fr. Emmanuel**, Ben (Redemptorist candidate), Fr. Douglas (English novena), Fr. Pascal**, Fr. Norbert** (standing), Fr Aimé**, Fr. Maurice (diocesan priest).  Each evening as we relaxed after a long day, and often at morning prayer,  our confreres from Burkina Fasso treated us to some wonderful songs and great drumming!  You can catch a sample of their music on this link as they were part of a brilliant and moving multi-cultural opening ceremony. 

https://sanctuairesainteanne.org/fr/vimeo-archives   (Opening of the feast - July 25, 2019 - 4:00 pm;  at the 53:45 mark.)

Yes, just in case you missed it - Ben was recently accepted as a Redemptorist candidate and will join our student program in Toronto this coming fall.  Please keep him in your prayers as he makes this transition. 

We also met Gérald C. Lacroix.  He weaves humour and stories into his preaching and is renowned for his preaching.  The team at the Basilica facilitated each evening, a liturgy of the Word in French, with lots of singing, the preaching of the Cardinal, and also testimonies from a variety of lay people and clergy.  He is also an exemplary bishop, and known to be a very good pastor.  It was also good to meet Cardinal Lacroix, the person - seen here at the breakfast table.  He shared with us about his family, and asked us for prayers for his sister who is receiving treatment for cancer.  He told us how his father, after seeing the Pope on television who was bracing against the cold, then knit a white, wool scarf for the Holy Father.  Yes, if you see Pope Francis wearing a white, thick, hand-knit scarf, it came from the hands of Cardinal Lacroix’s father. 

I am heartened by the men who are taking an interest in our community from across Canada.  For example, Nick is from Nova Scotia.  Please remember to invite men to inquire about the Redemptorists.  Please ask them to consider joining us for a few days or a few weeks, next summer, at Le Sanctuaire de Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré!

Student Gathering in Canandaigua

By Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R.

I am often asked by people in general, but especially by people who are inquiring into the Redemptorists, whether we have any students.  Yes, we do have students.

Every year at this time, we gather many Redemptorist students into one place for a week of prayer, meals, fun, and a workshop.  In the picture above, you see students who are from Canada and the United States, and one student who has come from Ireland.  Of course, not all the students were able to attend, including five students from Canada who had to miss out on this great experience that took place near Canandaigua Lake, New York this May.

Some of you know Brothers Eumir Bautista C.Ss.R. and Ivan Dzhur C.Ss.R.  These men are studying to become Redemptorists in Canada.  They renewed their profession of vows to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Seen from left to right are Fr. Charles Duval C.Ss.R. the newly elected Provincial Superior for Canada, and Frs.  Peter Hill C.Ss.R. and John Sianchuk C.Ss.R., who were witnessing the renewal of vows for Brothers Ivan and Eumir.

During the workshop portion of our week, Fr. Raphael Gallagher C.Ss.R., explained how to read his newly published book,  “Conscience, Writings from Moral Theology by St. Alphonsus.”    Fr. Raphael explained how people in the time of St. Alphonsus, very like our own era, were wondering how to find some certainty when trying to make good choices in life.  We learned the method that St. Alphonsus proposes to help us choose the Good.   In the picture below, from left to right you are Redemptorist Frs. Jack Kingsbury, David Louch, Raphael Gallagher and John Sianchuk.  Frs. Jack, David and John are members of our North American Spirituality Commission.  This Spirituality Commission along with Liguori Publications, helped to publish and distribute this new book. 

As usual, the food at these gatherings is fabulous and was certainly made more enjoyable by the company we shared at table.  Fr. Mark Miller our newly elected Regional Superior  and Fr. Ray Douziech are featured here.  Fr. Ray is the director of students at our Toronto student house.  We also have student houses in New York city, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas.

From this summer through to next August of 2020, our students at the stage of novitiate will be living at our monastery in Lima, Ohio.  Pictured here from left to right are Frs. Chuong Cao and Ed Eherer,  who will be the directors of novices for this coming year. 

Well I was too focussed on praying, during the prayer time, to get you a picture of that; however, I did mention above that in addition to prayer, workshop, and food, we also had fun…

If you would like to join in the Gospel friendship that we share in the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer; or if you would like to encourage someone to become a member of the Redemptorists, then please give me a shout.

Parish Lenten Missions

I am often asked by people:  What do Redemptorists do?

We serve in the new evangelization of the Church.  Like St. Alphonsus we use all kinds of talents including story-telling, music and drama.   https://www.cssr.news/redemptorists-2/alphonsus-liguori-our-founder/

In Canada during Lent, we proclaimed the Gospel through what we now call “parish missions.”

Bishop Jon Hansen, C.Ss.R. preached a mission about Faith, Hope and Love during the 100th anniversary year of St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon.  Present also were Redemptorists, Frs. Ciro Perez and Steve Morrisey and Graham Hill (not present in the picture).

Like St. Alphonsus, who dedicated himself completely to the service of the poor and most abandoned; we too reached out to especially rural communities who often have less financial and other resources available to nourish their faith life.  Redemptorist Frs. Jean Claude Nadeau, Jacques Fortin, and Joseph Manh, invited a guest preacher (second from left) to preach in a parish of six churches we serve along a rural stretch called the Côte-de-Beaupré, in Québec.  

Fr. Doris Laplante C.Ss.R. led a mission in the parish of Mary, Star of the Sea.  This parish is comprised of four churches in different small communities in eastern-central New Brunswick. 

Lay Missionaries of the Most Holy Redeemer, Deacon Bob Williston and Joan Williston, along with Fr. David Purcell C.Ss.R., journeyed to a small town in the mountains of British Columbia, to preach at Sacred Heart Parish in Kimberley, British Columbia.  Over four evenings we focussed on Being Receptive to, Giving Thanks For, Celebrating the Sacrament of, and Sharing God’s Mercy.   The same themes were also preached at Holy Spirit parish in Saskatoon.  Then, Deacon Bob and Joan (seen in this picture on the far left) also teamed up with Fr. Babu Matthew C.Ss.R. at a small town of Carstairs, Alberta where they led a mission in St. Agnes Parish.

St. Alphonsus., a gifted musician and composer, wrote many popular hymns and taught them to the people in parish missions.  Across Canada and into the United States, Deacon Bob Williston, and Fr. Eugene O’Reilly are well known for evangelizing people through their music.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbbnehQduMk  and http://redemptorists.ca/redemptorist-music/

Here you see some people who attended a mission at St. Paul’s Basilica in Toronto.  Included in the picture you might recognize two of our students, from the Toronto house of studies, and a man inquiring into the Redemptorists.  We heard through Fr. Eugene’s stories, humour, and songs, how God created us and looks upon us as “very good.”  God always welcomes us with open arms, and helps us to live the Beatitudes in our ordinary everyday life so that we can be truly “Happy”.    Fr. Eugene is truly dedicated to this ministry as he led missions for nine weeks during Lent, in Alberta, in Ontario, and in Florida.  https://redemptorists.ca/missions/

Although, recently ordained as a bishop (22 February), Bishop Guy Desrochers C.Ss.R., continued with his schedule of 5 Lenten missions.  He preached missions in New York state, Ontario, Québec, and in Alberta. 

These pictures witness to the importance of team work, music, drama as we preach the Word in our ministry of evangelization.  Our evangelization spans different languages and cultures in Canada.  Fr. Larry Kondra C.Ss.R. (last picture, on the right) led a mission at Blessed Virgin Mary church, for a Ukrainian Catholic parish in Winnipeg Manitoba. 

Khrystos Voskres!   I pray that your Easter celebrations bring many blessing into your life.  Voistyno Voskres!

Announcing the Gospel Across Different Cultures

As I travel the country, I am impressed by the way the Gospel is announced across Canada through so many different languages and cultures.  In November, I visited a young adult group that meets at Holy Spirit Parish, the Montréal Chinese Catholic mission.  This celebration of the Catholic faith, in this spot and through this culture, has continued for over one hundred years!

I also attended a meeting of Chinese Catholic Pastors in the Toronto Archdiocese.  The meeting was hosted by Fr. Peter Chin C.Ss.R. (second from right) at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.  Bishop Robert Kasun (second from left) was dialoguing with the priests about their mission and ministry within the ever-growing Chinese Catholic population.    Fr. Augustine Chan (far left) has been appointed as chaplain for the Chinese university students in the Toronto Archdiocese.  He recounted his experience of leading a delegation of Catholic students in August to meet others at Pearson International Airport, who were arriving from China.  Of the half a million international students who arrive in Canada each year, 132,000 (the largest group)  are from mainland China, meaning that most of them would speak Mandarin.  If you are interested, Indian students, then Korean, make up the next largest cultural groups arriving in Canada for studies.

Very remarkable at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, I recommend you see inside the church a statue of Mary, Our Lady of China.  She is dressed to reflect the culture of the Ching dynasty.  Outside the church to greet you is a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel who reflects the dress of a woman from the Ming Dynasty.   Here she is seen behind Fr. Peter Chin along with members of the Knights of Columbus Council based at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. 

On the recent Family Day weekend a group of Chinese Catholic university students organized a retreat.  This retreat  was attended by students from Western University, London,  University of Waterloo, McMaster in Hamilton, and various campuses from the Toronto area.  ‘Fiat!, Let it be done,’ was the theme.  I was inspired by the dedication of this group to their Catholic and Asian heritage.  Although the music was very similar to many other youth groups in Canada, noodles for snacks and  Mahjong as the ‘card’ game were quite different from the other youth groups I encounter.   

We included in our retreat, the Mother of Perpetual Help Icon.  We found that despite the image coming from a non-Asian culture,  prayer using this Icon, helped nurture our spiritual growth and also stimulated good discussion in our small groups.

At the beginning of January, Noel Bustillos (Redemptorist candidate at the student house in Toronto) and I were able to celebrate Bishop Steven Chmilar’s levee, which was held at Holy Eucharist parish.  After vespers in the church we were treated to Ukrainian food and music, in the parish hall.

Through the invitation of a Redemptorist  enquirer,  I was treated to a concelebration of the Divine Liturgy in St. Katherine of Alexandria Parish.  This is a relatively new community, situated in a small rural area north of Toronto called Bond Head.   A testament to the appeal of the Divine Liturgy, was the fact that the English language Liturgy attracted people who were not brought up in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. 

Some  First Nations Peoples still gather with the help of the Holy Cross Fathers for mass every Sunday, in the city of Toronto, at St. Ann’s parish.  Fr. Wilson Andrade, a Holy Cross Father, at the end of November,  invited some young adults to give a slide presentation  (see picture) after the Sunday mass, describing their mission experience this past summer in Fort Resolution.   Ten young adults had helped to repair the church in Fort Resolution.  As you know, Bishop Jon Hansen C.Ss.R.,  invites groups of people to come north and help him to repair and refurbish aging church buildings in his diocese.  Also pictured here are two of the elders, John Robinson and Christopher Spanish, who help to lead the mass which includes some First Nations rituals. 

As you may know, these stories are representative of the different Churches, cultures, and languages in which the Redemptorists serve across Canada.   ‘I will give you as a light to the nations,  that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’  (Is. 49.6) 

Rise-Up 2019 in Calgary

By Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R.

I again represented the Redemptorists at Rise-Up, which is a yearly conference of about 800 primarily university students.  This year, Mark Suezo was on the team who hosted the event in Calgary. 

The organizing committee also invited Bishop Brian Bayda, to share his experience of the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.  He used a meditation on the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to summarize the movements of the Spirit in the bishops and in the youth who gathered in Rome.  

Redemptorists a Godsend for Vietnamese War Veterans

Some people ask me what is the mission of the Redemptorists.  This story about the Vietnamese Redemptorists is a good example of how Alphonsus asked us to reach out to the abandoned and the poor.

Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R.

Church gives homes, prosthetic limbs, Christmas meals to losing soldiers from civil war who have been abandoned for decades

ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh City 

December 22, 2018

The Vietnam War left many scars. (Photo: Pixabay)

Vietnamese war veterans who lost their limbs and loved ones over four decades ago are getting a dose of Christmas this year from the charitable endeavors of Redemptorists active in the country.

They are helping these former soldiers in southern Vietnam restore some of their dignity and self-respect more than 40 years after the Vietnam War left many of them facing a financially crippled and emotionally scarred future.

"We will hold Christmas celebrations and offer gifts to 6,375 elderly, battle-scarred soldiers throughout southern Vietnam from Dec. 26-28 and on New Year’s Eve," Father Anthony Le Ngoc Thanh, head of the Redemptorist-run Justice and Peace Office, told ucanews.com.

Many of the veterans suffered greatly during the nation's civil war, which later spilled out into an international conflict with China backing North Vietnam and the United States throwing its support behind the South.

American war vets have given hundreds of bicycles to poor Vietnamese children in rural areas this year to ease their plight and show their empathy despite suffering atrocities during the war at the hands of the Vietnamese.

Father Thanh said the elderly Vietnamese would assemble at the Redemptorists’ headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City and talk about the situation they now find themselves in, as well as the state of their health and other subjects.

As part of the healing process, and at a time of year when many elderly feel alone, they will review their shared past, sing carols and traditional Vietnamese folk songs, play games and eat together.

"We are trying to bring some Christmas joy to those neglected soldiers because Jesus was born into the world to save all people, especially the marginalized," Father Thanh said.

Such events are not something the communist government generally endorses, but social welfare groups say they serve a crucial role.

While Christmas decorations grace the lobbies of five-star hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City at this time of year, the country is still officially atheist with gaps yet to be plugged when it comes to taking care of the elderly and others who exist on the fringes of society.

This year, the veterans will receive travel expenses of around US$65 each. The Redemptorists were able to raise enough funding from domestic and overseas-based benefactors to cover the costs of the activities scheduled for December, which the church estimates will end up costing a total of 14 billion dong (US$603,000).

Father Thanh said volunteers would visit the homes of elderly soldiers who are too frail or otherwise physically unable to make it to the church’s headquarters, bringing them gifts and giving them comfort.

He said this year his office has offered nearly 5,530 injured veterans food, money, healthcare insurance, medical checkups, treatment costs, reading glasses, wheelchairs, walking sticks, crutches and prosthetic limbs.

The more fortunate, or most in need, may be given somewhere to stay or have their homes repaired at the Redemptorists' expense. All of the veterans whose relatives have passed away are given basic shelter in the city.

“Our activities aim to help these soldiers regain their self-esteem and gain public recognition for their sacrifices so that they can feel proud of their service,” the priest said.

Fear of reprisals

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, soldiers in southern Vietnam who had been made invalids by the fighting were forced to live in remote areas. Most were abandoned, treated like enemies, and lived in constant fear of reprisals at the hands of the triumphant communist regime.

Most continue to live in extreme poverty and have no land or houses. Many eke out a subsistence living as beggars or lottery ticket sellers.

Some depend on their children and are prohibited from talking to their former comrades in arms.

Father Thanh said very few veterans receive benefits from U.S.-funded projects for people with disabilities in Vietnam or from the government's welfare services.

He said the majority are not aware there are programs designed to help them. One example would be the Redemptorist-led Gratitude to South Vietnamese Injured Veterans Program, launched in 2013.

This year some 528 elderly war veterans who have been debilitated by illness or injury have registered with the program, he added. However, the church estimates there could be four times as many who are eligible to benefit but don't know the scheme exists.

Father Thanh said the Redemptorists helped to organize funerals for 140 veterans this year.

"We urgently need to support as many of these war veterans as possible as many are now in their 70s and 80s and may not have much time left,” he said.

Vo Hong Son, a veteran who sells lottery tickets for a living, was given shelter in Ho Chi Minh City. He expressed his profound thanks to the Redemptorists for paying for his wife’s funeral and hosting it in the monastery compound.

She died in a nearby province in November but their landlord refused to consent to the funeral being held at their rented apartment, which was all they could afford.

Son, who lost his left leg in 1974, said the church has "brought us [veterans] together like a family and given us opportunities to live with dignity. We feel loved and respected here."

"We are proud to have fought for Vietnam and sacrificed our bodies for the motherland," said the father of two.

In the past, police threatened and prevented veterans from receiving the Redemptorists’ gifts. Some had their gifts taken away and were summoned to police stations.

The Redemptorists were accused of receiving funds from reactionary groups abroad to support the veterans, who, it must not be forgotten, fought for the losing side and are still eyed with suspicion in some government quarters in Hanoi.

"Now the government is slowly becoming more open to the work we are doing," Father Thanh said. "They are starting to understand that the goal of our services is to promote veterans’ self-respect and dignity, not fight against the government.”