Every year when Tet or the Lunar New Year is looming, the patients and staffs at Van Mon, a leprosarium located in Vu Thu district, city of Thai Binh 110km from Hanoi, always get a chance to see their shepherd, bishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Sang who faithfully pays a visit to their home every New Year- rain or shine- and celebrate mass with all of them.

This year, despite the temperature dipping below the normal range, and the bishop is not getting any younger to endure travelling during cold rain and high wind, but his Excellency still insisted on coming to share his quality time with the people whom he considered an inseparable part of his diocese - family, the less unfortunate, poor and sick and but also someone who are bearing the image of God.

Van Mon has long been a treatment center dedicated to the lepers who contracted Hansen's disease by the French missionaries in 1898. Originally, the center was designed to house just a small number of patients from Thai Binh province but it grew larger with time to meet the needs of a much larger and diverse population. The facility is now standing on 65 hectares and willing to receive patients from all over North Vietnam, including people from the other provinces who came after having nowhere else to turn to, just because in a close society such as Vietnam, lepers are still being looked upon as pariahs who are avoided by others. To date, there are 497 inpatients and almost 300 outpatients are being treated at Van-Mon Dermatology Clinic by a team of dedicated, skilled physicians who are not just practicing medicine but also responsible for management and administration.

To fulfill the spiritual needs for the patients, two churches and a Buddhist temple had been built. According to Dr Mui, an attending physician, patients in general are happy with this living arrangement, when they are being provided with both physical and spiritual care by the medical staffs, the charities and the clergy. Thanks to this tender loving care, their health and life expectancy seem to improve a great deal.

Mr. Hoa, from Khoai Chau, Hung Yen province recalled when he first came to the center in 1955:"Our early days were extremely difficult. We had to live in the dilapidated huts and did laborious work. Under this living condition our illness got worse"

Mrs. Teo, a 70 year old patient from Ninh Binh province talked about the time when she had to go around the center looking for snails and vegetable growing in the wild to satisfy her rumbling stomach all the time.

Van Mon center at the present time is no longer a place of destitution, thanks to the effort of the director of the center, Dr. Bui Huy Thien and his team of administrators, also to the generosity of the philanthropists whose tremendous support is the reason why the patients are having enough to eat and their medical condition under control.

The patients also offer thanks to the bishop, the priests, monks and nuns and donors who presented them with 116 kg sugar and about $3000 US as New Year gift.

The bishop in reference to the homily has emphasized the importance of sharing:"When you visit the sick, the hungry or the imprisoned, you visit me"