The advantage, when you live in Vietnam, is that you are never late to send your greetings for your New Year, since according to the lunar calendar used in Southeast Asia, New Year's Day will fall on January 25...
In July 2019, after a year spent on the other side of the world, in Belgium and Bolivia, I resumed my work as formator at the novitiate in Vietnam. I had started with seven novices but after three weeks, one of my novices realized that he did not feel called to religious life and asked to leave us. The remaining six novices are motivated and have a good maturity that facilitates the discernment process. In the novitiate, I always try to maintain the balance between prayer life, courses on the history and spirituality of our congregation, relaxation, work in the garden and work with the poor. The many visits and activities outside, often unscheduled, do not always favour a spirit of recollection and meditation. There is always a balance to be found between the interior life and the external commitments, I think that this is the case for everyone, whether one is a missionary or not.
The life in the novitiate is regular. We pray five times a day, we have classes and other regular activities during the week. We wake up very early (4:15 or 5:15 depending on whether Mass is said at home or at the sisters' house). This regularity, as formator, I have to accept it and even foster it for the sake of the brothers I am in charge of. The main reward of my work is the fact that I prepare young men for a demanding but meaningful life, orientated to God and to the people they will serve wherever they will be sent. This satisfaction became obvious this year since on the 3d of January, we celebrated the ordination to the diaconate of our first group of brothers who joined our congregation twelve years ago. I had been their formator in philosophy from 2010 to 2012. In about eight months, they will be priests and they have already received their mission country assignment. They will be sent to four continents: Africa, Europe, America and Asia. Their joy is naturally tinged with a little stress; they wonder if they will be up to the task and if they will find their happiness in missionary life. My conviction is that they will adapt to their new country of mission as we did before them. Their ordination to the diaconate was also experienced as a very exciting moment for the other 42 young people in formation who hope to reach this memorable stage of their formation to missionary life.
Before my return to Vietnam at the beginning of June 2019, given my mother's declining health, I said goodbye to her without knowing if I would see her again. In mid-November, I had to return to Belgium urgently. We thought my mother was close to the end but she regained strength quite quickly. Still at the hospital, my mother impresses us with her serenity and good mood. After spending three weeks in Belgium with my family, I had to return to Vietnam. Missionary life includes the sacrifice of being away from family and parents as they grow older. This is a concern for many people of my generation.
As for the future of my mission, I plan to finish my commitment as formator in Summer 2021 but finding somebody that could replace me as formator is not easy. A formator needs to be experienced in missionary life, to be mature and available to work in formation... The important thing for me is to remain flexible and to be ready to continue serving in Vietnam until the Vietnamese group finds its stability. Things are moving forward but I have to be patient. I wish you all a nice year 2020. May the Lord fill you with His tenderness and give harmony in your families and communities. I pray for you.
United, Father Fred (Cha Hòa)