Interview with Fr. Leo Choi – temporary missionary in Australia
By Fr Leo Choi
Engadine (Sydney), Australia, 19 November 2019 -- My name is Fr. Leo Sungkyu Choi. I originally belong to the Province of Korea and was sent 3 years ago to Australia-Pacific province (AUL – Mary Help of Christians) to the multi-cultural Salesian community of Engadine, Sydney. Here I serve as an assistant priest at St. John Bosco Parish in Engadine and as chaplain in the St John Bosco Primary school. Since 2016 the KOR and AUL provinces signed a temporary agreement about my ministry here, that will be renewed for another 3 years.
How has your Salesian vocation journey been so far?
I first met the Salesians in my Salesian high school (Gwangju) who inspired me to follow the Salesian vocation and I then chose to follow Don Bosco in the religious life. After completing my practical training (Korea) and theological studies (Manila), I had an opportunity to study in Melbourne under the supervision of Fr Frank Moloney, the prestigious Scripture scholar and also a former Provincial of Australia. Then I returned to the province of Korea and worked in the Formation House for 4 years before I was sent here to Engadine. It is not common for an order priest to serve in a parish in Korea. Thus, this is a valuable pastoral experience for me to have as a Salesian.
How do you find yourself in the Australian society and Church?
Australia itself is a well-functioning multicultural society with ethnic and cultural diversity. This applies to Australia-Pacific Salesian province as well. Some Salesians were sent from different provinces, some from overseas and some were born here in Australia or in Samoa. For this reason, the Don Bosco formation house located in Melbourne could be a cradle that brings up religious leaders who are capable of serving others with various cultural background, since they experience within our international community many confreres from different countries. It is a great and unique opportunity for young Salesians with diverse background to study and work closely together and to learn how to work in harmony within an international environment.
What is your life and mission in Engadine-Sydney?
I’m living in a multicultural community of four Salesians coming from Australia, Malta, Korea, Netherlands and Vietnam. Our community is entrusted with a Valdocco-like variety of mission fields – Parish, Primary and Secondary school, Youth Centre and Sports Club, Dunlea Boys and Girls Home; with adjacent FMA Sisters community (now with 3 novices). Among my ministries is the pastoral care in the Primary school campus, as assistant priest in the parish as well other casual ministries in the mission of my community. Since there is also a large Korean Catholic community in Sydney (with Caritas Sisters of Jesus), I’m able to enjoy a ‘bit and piece’ of my home culture and food at times!
What are the challenges of your life in Australia?
Australia-Pacific province is being well exposed to an international environment and open for Salesians from all over the world. Having said that, there are certain limitations, too.
First, there is a language barrier. English is the widely spoken language of the Australia - Pacific province. Therefore, acquiring English is a necessity for those who carry out pastoral care here. Fortunately, many young Salesians are used to speaking English as this language is well taught in many countries. Nevertheless, English could be a roadblock for many foreign Salesians who are not fluent in English. However, this is not something that they should be afraid of. Based on my personal experience, this challenge can be gradually overcome as time goes by with one’s attitude, patience and constant effort.
Secondly, there might be a cultural conflict. It can be difficult for us to accept differences of others. The moment we recognise and accept the differences, we can recognise the diversity of those differences and become mature through the experience. “There is no such thing as right or wrong, there only is difference.” This famous quote encourages us and leads us to a fuller community life.
Would you encourage other EAO Salesian to come across to Australia?
My final comment is related not only to Australia-Pacific province, but also to all Salesians and the Church worldwide. That’s the fact that the number of vocation is declining in some countries. There could be many different reasons behind this but the fundamental reason lies in the fact that our lives may not be a very attractive example for the young people.
When we live a joyful, happy and evangelical life, and when we live a life with the same charismatic passion of Don Bosco, vocation will come knocking on the door of the Salesian Society. Why is this true? This is the very reason why I became a Salesian!
NB: Fr Leo is one among the 20 'mobile Salesians' present in some EAO provinces as temporary missionary, due to mutual agreements between two provinces (3-5 years): like others in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, PNG, Solomon Islands or in the Philippines. They come from Korea, Vietnam, India, Timor Leste, Indonesia and the Philippines.
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