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       Vietnam-Mongolia, 21 May 2021 -- Five months after their appointment by the Rector Major, two new provincials will be installed in a few days time: on 24 May in Cebu-Philippines, Fr Fidel Orendain (FIS province: Philippines South - Pakistan) and on 25 May in Ho Chi Minh City, Fr Barnaba Le An Phong (VIE province: Vietnam - Mongolia). While we thank the outgoing provincials for their enthusiastic and hard-working ministry to their respective provinces: Fr. Godofredo Atienza (FIS) and Fr Joseph Quang (VIE), we are happy to be able to share an interview with Fr Barnaba Phong:

       What is your main attraction in following Don Bosco as a Salesian?

​​​​​​​       In the Church, we recognize the saints, and each one has his own particular way of living holiness; and we have a variety of lives in the one all-holy God. For me, when I think back on my vocational journey, I feel that Don Bosco is a saint whose life and vocation are closest to me. There are two points that attract me:

​​​​​​​       Don Bosco's unique personality that inspires in me a way of living humanly and strongly for young people. From difficult circumstances, John Bosco grew up with strong will and energy just to realise his dream of becoming a priest and then an educator for poor young people.

​​​​​​​       Don Bosco gave me another lesson in his passion for the glory of God and the salvation of souls with his motto Da mihi animas, and because of this choice his life was full of holiness and energy.

​​​​​​​       What makes you happy as a Salesian of Don Bosco?

​​​​​​​       When we ask someone what makes them happy, we can get many different and particular answers. Here we are talking about happiness "as a Salesian" - that is: the happiness of our vocation "to be a pastor and educator for young people".

​​​​​​​       For me, there are two salient features of Don Bosco's face that attract and motivate me. First: the cheerfulness and availability of a discoverer who willingly accepts God's plan for him. Second: a holiness that is lived with a deep human touch. These traits help me to be happy in living Salesian consecrated life.

​​​​​​​       What have you learned after 14 years in Italy?

​​​​​​​       I spent a long time in Italy as a practical trainee, student of theology and then completing further study programs (2000-2014). The experiences of any period of formation abroad can leave both positive and negative impressions. However, what I have learnt as an enriching experience in my Salesian life is trust and reliance on God in all circumstances. In Italy I have realized that difficulties can be good opportunities for formation, and I rise up from difficulties to live with some optimism. And also I was able to acquire an attitude of an open mind, being able to accept differences - in cultural integration and in sharing Salesian spirituality with confreres of very different backgrounds.

​​​​​​​       You have been a formator. What were the challenges in this mission and how did you overcome them?

​​​​​​​       I have often been told that one must act according to nature - agere sequitur esse. The great challenge for me, and in fact one sometimes difficult to overcome, is how to have harmony between who I "am" when I "do". In other words, it is the testimony of a life worthy of a vocation, living an example of sacrifice, listening, service, communion, understanding, building a right and positive relationship with the young Salesians in formation.

​​​​​​​       I have slowly discovered that when I do not love my brothers enough I have no initiative in serving and accompanying them. In other words, to overcome the difficulties described above, in my opinion, the best and still valid way is to learn to love - endeavour to be loved.

​​​​​​​       Your dream at the beginning of your term as Provincial of Vietnam-Mongolia?

​​​​​​​       "Dream" is the key word of Pope Francis for all SDBs in General Chapter 28 and also for me now, when I was entrusted with the task by the Congregation: to "live" with the youth, "animate" and "administer" the SDB confreres and the mission in the Province of Vietnam-Mongolia.

​​​​​​​       However, another important thing that lies within that dream is how I can awaken in my confreres the desire to serve young people wholeheartedly and help young people to dream for their lives.

​​​​​​​       I hope that our province will continue to grow in Don Bosco's mission of serving the young in Salesian spirituality. That dream can be realized step by step, with an operational plan that aligns with the reality and vision of the mission in our province.

​​​​​​​       NB: The province of Vietnam - Mongolia has 38 communities and 350+ professed Salesian confreres, with another 120+ Vietnamese Salesian missionaries ad gentes working in another 40+ provinces in all five continents.

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