Dear relatives, confreres, and friends, Saigon, the 17th of October 2011.
Three years ago, our community decided to welcome the first group of vietnamese candidates who wanted to enter in our Congregation in order to become missionaries. The training to become a missionnary takes a long time. The formands start their formation by studying English (one year or two, depending on the initial level and the progress of the candidates) then they study Philosophy ( for two years), noviciate ( one year). Then, they go for missionary internship in a community abroad (one or two years) and then they have to do another four years of theology. The total is…ten years of training! It is long, but time is an ally to grow and mature their vocation. At the present time, we have two houses of formation, one for those who study English, one for those who study philosophy.
My community (my three spiritan confreres) asked me to be in charge of the seminarians who study philosophy (to be more precise, they are “postulants” and not "seminarians" because our candidates are preparing for life religious and do not live in a diocesan seminary). I started to live with the postulants in September 2010. The postulants study philosophy at the Dominicans’ institute (15 minutes by motorbike from where we live). They live in community with me. Personnally, I find it very exciting to be their formator (I mean to be responsible for the house of formation). It's nice to see young people who are willing to give their lives for Christ. They often come from families where faith is deeply rooted. Some of them have blood sisters who entered also in religious life to become nuns. In Vietnam, there are so many vocations and good ones ! Faith is part of daily life, she is lived in community, in the family first, and secondly in the local church. Many parents feel happy when they hear that their children want to consecrated their life to God. Many young people express their desire to become one day priests or religious brothers or sisters.
Training young people to religious life covers several fields: the spiritual, intellectual, community, and pastoral fields. On the spiritual level, young people must root their commitment in the love of Christ and the love of the Church. Faith in Vietnam is very community oriented, but the formands must also learn to cultivate a personal relationship with Christ in a more intimate, personal, and silent prayer. In addition to daily Mass and offices (prayer of the Psalms), the community take twenty-five minutes of silent prayer every morning in the chapel, after Lauds. Each formand must have a personal spiritual director, and is due to go for confession regularly (once a month or every two months) Regarding the participation to mass, we participate three times a week at the Mass in the parish (in Vietnamese), once a week we go to the Pastoral Center of Saigon where we have the Mass with the English-speaking community (Filipinos in majority) and we also celebrate Mass in English at home three times a week.
Regarding intellectual formation, the English studies are a full-time occupation during the first two years of training, then philosophy became the main subject. But during the years of Philosophy, the formands need to continue to make progress in English, mainly because after four or five years in Vietnam, the candidates go to study theology in the Philippines, in English ... So we need candidates with good intellectual abilities ! Missionary life is a tough life and studying languages is an essential condition to open oneself to the world. In addition to studies of english and philosophy, we hold monthly weekend training for our formands. The topics of those week-ends are various: human development, self-assessment, the Bible, the Second Vatican Council, ... We also organize twice a year a retreat ( two days) and an annual retreat (five days).
Community life is a also a relevant way to "test" the vocation of our candidates. Through community life, they adquire a spirit of service, they learn to forgive one another. More than ever Mission is understood as something that is set up and carried by the community, not by individuals. Missionary priorities are discerned in community. That implies that the members of the community need to be able to listen to each other with respect, in order to discover to what kind of work they are called to.
During these formative years, pastoral commitment is also important, especially the year(s) of internship in a spiritan community abroad. Before that, the formands take already some pastoral commitments. They teach catechism in the parish nearby or they go to visit orphanages regularly.
During the last three years we welcame twenty-four young people who have experienced a time in our two houses of formation, seven of them have left us already, either on their own initiative or because we asked them to do so. The missionary life is a demanding life. Not everybody is called to live this kind of life. There are so many different vocations in the Church. Discernment is not easy. It is carried out on two levels. First, the candidate must feel at peace with his vocation. Secondly, the formator must also confirm his call. When doubt raises in the mind of the candidate or in the mind of the formator, it takes time and patience to reach a decision, to confirm the candidate in the religious vocation or to take the decision that he should leave. These moment can be painful for both sides. I regularly tell our candidates the following: "If you are not called to the missionary life in the congregation but you become people available to serve the Church and the society in a different way, including starting a family, that's fine too. The important thing is to be available and to see honestly to what kind of life you are called. But know also that the Church and the world have great need of many missionaries! "
I conclude by thanking everyone who pray for us and help us financially. Training requires also spiritual support and financial suppor. In both areas, the generosity of our benefactors is something that amazes me. God bless you!
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