Interview with a Vietnamese Salesian Brother
Mission in Belgium (Project Europe)
Hechtel, Belgium, 17 December 2017 -- Br. Joseph Hoan Pham, SDB is one of the 20 Salesian Brothers - missionaries ad gentes living and working out of our Region. We are happy to present his missionary vocation story and get him contribution to the 2018 EAO Salesian Brother Congress.
What makes you happy or joyful as Salesian Brother?
When I was in post-novitiate community of Dalat in Vietnam, I saw that we did not pay much attention to those who will become Salesian priests or who are Salesian brothers. We lived together and took care about each other as one family and we together served young people so I was very happy there to be a Salesian, a member in family.
In Belgium we don’t also pay so much attention to that. Everyone is the same and we are a family. Therefore I find difficult to say what makes me happy al Salesian Brother. But I always know that I am happy to be a Salesian as Salesian Brother here in Belgium because I love the life of Salesian community. Indeed the community where I do practical training is really a family. We are four confreres living together and everyone has different tasks but we make time for each other. We eat together, go shopping together, pray together and watch TV together. To live and work together make me joyful in Salesian life. Furthermore I want to be a Salesian Brother because I think that that is the best choice that God has chosen for me.
Who is your Salesian Brother model? or How was the process of discerning your form of Salesian Vocation (to become priest or brother)?
When I was an Aspirant I learnt about many Salesian Saints. And the one I love most, is Blessed Artemide Zatti because he had always something to tell, to make his patients happy.
In the novitiate we must choose to become a Priest or a Brother. I liked to be a Brother since I had been in pre-novitiate. Everyone who asked me why I looked to be Brother, my answer was: 'I like to be a Brother because that suits to my character!' When the Novice Master asked me about that, I replied in the same way. But he advised me that I should have not choose to be a Brother because I like or because everyone wants me to be a Brother. He encouraged me to choose to become a brother if that is what God has chosen for me. Afterward I heard that we needed more Salesian Brothers. And I thought that that is possibly what God said to me. Then I told the Novice Master that I wanted to be Salesian brother because that is what the Salesian Congregation needs. And I told him that I believe that God had chosen this way of life for me!
How was born your missionary vocation?
I remembered that once in Vietnam we were visited by one Superior who talked to us about missionary vocation. He was asked by another Aspirant what does a missionary do in a missionary country, especially in Europe. He answered that we are called to do what the community would like you to do! For me that was a good answer. Then I wished if I would become a missionary, to love to do whatever my missionary community wants me to!
Furthermore when I was a post novices there were so many missionries who visited us and talked about how they had worked and how they had been happy there. I was impressed by their witnesses. Then I though that missionary vocation was possibly also for me. And I talked about that with Fr Thomas, the Rector of the Post-novitiate. And then with the other superiors he helped me to discern my missionary vocation.
What is the specific contribution of the Salesian Brother to our mission & community?
I don’t know exactly what the specific contribution of the Salesian Brother to our mission and community is. I think that the community where I live now or the congregation is still good without me and what I have tried to do may be nothing. But for me Salesian vocation is all my life. I believe that I am happy to be a Salesian as brother. As Salesian Brother I try to be happy with my conferes in the community. I would love to do anything for them if they need me to do. And I try to be happy to present with young people in the school. When I can do it for the community and for the students, I feel happy. I think that my contribution as Salesian brother in my community and mission to be joyful and make people around me happy.
How to make the vocation of Salesian Brother more visible in the Church?
When I was a student I though that someone wanted to be a religious because he or she wanted to do something special for the church for poor people or escaped from the world. I had chosen to be religious also for that reason. But when I lived in post-novitiate and now live in Belgium, my motivation has changed. I have recognized that religious life is more than what I can do but religious life is how I live happily. I am firstly happy so I share happiness with people by my serve. Therefore I think that we can not only talk about religious life as what we can do but also we proclaim that religious life is joyful life. And Salesian Brother is also an alternative option to be happy, joyful and to be saint.
How do you live your missionary life in Project Europe - joys and challenges?
This year I am doing practical training in a community in Belgium. Here in Hechtel we have a Secondary School. We have a new plan for this year. We try to invite the students to spend one day in our community so that they can feel what the Salesian religious life is about.
It is so difficult for me to work there as an Assistant of a Teache, because I do not have a good diploma to work there and also of language difficulty. Therefore I study language in the morning and in the afternoon I try to be present in the playground with our students to play football and to talk to them. And sometimes I help teachers in the school when they need. And if students are coming to visit our community, I make some cake for them.
Moreover I try to be active in our community. I do all what I can - from cooking, cleaning, to be always together with other confreres during the meal time and always ready to help them if there is some need. I say to myself that I would love to do anything for the community. That makes me happy!
For me the main challenge to live as missionary in Project Europe is that we do not have so many young conferes to share the mission tasks and to work together. Also the spiritual life might be also in danger, because the Eucharistic celebrations and common prayers in Europe are not so alive and vibrant as in my home country.
What does sustain your Salesian missionary vocation?
First the community life! When we pray together, live together and work together, it helps a lot to live my Salesian missionary vocation! Secondly I always think what I can do for my community and for the young people. Therefore the apostolic work is also important energizer for my vocation.
I'm happy to know about the 2018 EAO Salesian Brother Congress. I will pray for all Brothers in the Region and for the Congress!