As a young Buddhist, Tran Thi Ha Ngan often wondered what motivated her Catholic friends to help people who were abandoned due to physical disabilities, leprosy or HIV/AIDS, regardless of their religion.
“I would often visit Catholic websites to look for what inspires them to take care of patients whom other people close their eyes to,” recalls 31-year-old Ngan, who was born into a religious Buddhist family in Hue, the ancient capital in central Vietnam.
As she read more about Christianity, Jesus Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” and Francis of Assisi’s prayer “For it is in giving that we receive” left a deep impression on her.
This was sometime in 2009 when she was working on a climate change project along with some Catholic volunteers who later became her close friends.
Back then Ngan wouldn’t have ever thought of embracing a religion that is considered Western.
“I enjoyed a close working relationship with my Catholic friends, who gave me books on human values and life, and Christmas cards. I also attended their birthday parties and Christmas dinners,” she said.
Ngan would also join them in offering food to poor patients at local hospitals and taking care of HIV/AIDS patients at their homes.
“One time, I was deeply moved by the desperate plight of a Buddhist woman who was all skin and bone, confined to her bed and surrounded by an awful smell. The Catholic volunteers washed her hair, body and clothes, cleaned her house, and talked with her as if she were a family member,” she recalled.