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Sacro Cuore, Rome, 19 June 2020 -- It is almost 10 months after they arrived in Rome for the new missionary course. Due to various visa challenges and the recent Covid19 situation some young Salesians are 'stuck' in Rome and now are participating in the life of the Sacro Cuore General House community. Among them are also two former missionaries originally destined for Mongolia, a destination that was recently changed for Mexico-Guadalajara (Cl. Felix from India) and for Hungary (Cl. David from Nigeria). However among all of them the most familiar to all community members is the new community barber, Vietnamese missionary to Brazil - Manaus, Br. John Long (28 years).

Why do you like sharing?

When we talk about ourselves, we can get into our own heart and life story more easily. Why do we like stories? When I listen, I can understand the other's personal story and I can see better how God is working in the heart of my brothers.

What kind of family do you come from?

I was born into a family of five members, parents and younger brother with younger sister. My home village in located in Dong Nai province, a completely Catholic place. But since the age of one I have lived with my grandfather who was a coffee farmer. When my parents move to another distant place, all three siblings were living with my grandfather and studying at school . And in the afternoon we were working in the coffee and banana plantation. I was an altar boy from the age of 10 in Tan Yen parish. During the junior high school I was living with a lack of self-confidence, but since I start to attend the Salesian vocation group from the age of 15, I grew in self-confidence as a junior aspirant.

How did you get in touch with Don Bosco?

It was an attraction! Together with other 14 friends of high school we went from my village to enjoy Duc Huy Salesian parish every Sunday and joined the vocation group (junior aspirants). While I’m born into a poor family, my father thought that I will become a priest. But my mother supported me – she encouraged me to follow ‘my own life’ choice. Once I have invited some Salesian Brothers for dinner in my family and my mother saw that they are so happy as Brothers. It was a big help.

How were the first years with the Salesians?

After high school I failed the university exam and went to College (majoring in electronics), while living in Ben Cat community boarding house for 4 years. During College studies I had a part time working experience to pay my school fees. I was teaching maths and working as waiter in a restaurant. Every Sunday I enjoyed our aspirants program: we learned Salesian spirit, played football, there was a course in photo-shop or IT course, we also studied football rules to assist the Oratory tournaments. My challenges during that time was a study of English, time spent for cooking (I was already accustomed to this from my family). It was a joyful time with games, study and Oratory apostolate for the kids.

What attracted you to the Salesian vocation?

First, I like to play football and I enjoyed living together with other students, friends. After four years in the aspirantate (Ben Cat) our ‘director’ Fr. Truong asked me: Would you like to go to Cau Bong (Prenovitiate)? I love Salesian life but English was my challenge, very difficult for me. But last summer I was sent to one parish with one Salesian deacon who showed me his Salesian life – how to pray, work and life with the young people. I learnt a lot from him for two months and I was sure: “This life is for me!” Then I entered the Prenovitiate – there were 33 of us, later on 27 of us joined the novitiate and 20 of us made the first profession (14 clerics and 6 Brothers). We are still 16 professed Salesians.

Why did you profess as a Salesian Brother?

In our novices batch 6 Brothers professed and there are still five. Is it easy to choose or not? Luckily we have been well accompanied by the novice-master who explained both sides of the one Salesian vocation to us with their respective challenges and then asked us every 3 months ‘Would you like to become a Salesian Brother or Priest?’ And I was also lucky to meet some model senior Brothers – like Brother Andrew in the novitiate, Br. Ty in Duc Huy or Br Chuyen in Ben Cat. And for me the choice was not difficult like for some other companions (e.g. family expectation and pressure to become a priest).

And how did your missionary vocation grow?

During my 3 years in Dalat Don Rua postnovitiate I was a member of the 20 SDB strong missionary group. Since the novitiate I was asked many times: ‘Do you like missionary life?’ Yes, I liked it, but also needed more time to make a good choice.

The missionary group was helpful, especially during the 3rd year of philosophy. The first two years I just attended the group, but didn’t feel much attraction. But I shared my search with Fr Rector who sent me every summer to some challenging apostolic experience – first to K’ren (poor village in Lam Dong with an ethnic language K’ho), then after 2nd year I was sent to GiaRai (highland mission) and after 3rd year to K’Long. This kind of experience confirmed my missionary vocation. And similar experience was offered also to some other missionary candidate like those who went to Samoa, to Congo or to Chile. Through my personal missionary experience my ad gentes vocation also grew.

Who are your missionary models?

During the pre-novitiate some missionaries shared their goodnights - from South Sudan in Cau Bong. One young missionary forgot Vietnamese when he shared about South Sudan. He talked about a very difficult life and still he was very happy – I was deeply impressed. Or the other young missionary who came from Brazil-Amazon region shared many challenges, but always with a smiling face. Why?

How do you see your home province now?

Looking back at Salesian life in Vietnam, now I appreciate more the strengthening of Prenovitiate experience (=one more year for English with foreign missionary volunteers). But at the same time I would like to see more missions for poor young people in my home province, like the orphanage in Can Gio or the Ben Cat Oratory for the street children in the past.

How do you feel at ‘Sacro Cuore’?

I like the life here. In Vietnam if you stay near the Superior, you feel a little fear, you can’t talk to them, but now all of you are so friendly. I feel happy here, living with… All of our superiors are a good example for me.

How do you spend your time in the general house community?

First I’m learning little by little (three) languages – Italian, English and Portuguese – every day.

Then I’m very much encouraged in my vocation by the example of many senior Salesians and superiors. Although they are very busy, they never miss the community prayers, and offer me a good example. In this large community we celebrate birthdays and feastdays, it’s a good family spirit experience.

I have also started the haircutting service since the Covid19 lockdown time. First with a few senior confreres, then the Economer purchased a barbers kit for me and now I’m serving the whole community – also the Rector Major came twice and and Fr Cereda three times. And living with other missionary companions (150th expedition), we share our spiritual life, we give a hand at the Sacro Cuore Oratory and serve the community according to need. Yes, we are lucky to be here.

How do you learn the foreign languages?

After 10 months living abroad, out of Vietnam, I have dedicated a lot of time to language study. I would like to say to my former companions: ‘Don’t’ be afraid when you speak English, Portuguese or Italian! Other country's Salesians know that you are a missionary, they will help you, they will correct you and help you to learn their language better.

Personally I read and watch the Italian TV news, I write 10 sentences in Italian daily and send them to my Italian teacher at San Callisto community who corrects me every day. When I have a short time, I like to listen to other Salesians (native speakers, like Fr. Luigi F) and ask them some questions. I’m happy to find many senior Salesians, like Fr. Hilario, who assist me to learn foreign language, like Portuguese. I’m happy to find many Salesians, with whom I can practise.

What is your favorite prayer?

I like the Rosary best! When I was young, my grandfather told me to pray the Hail mary 3 times before going to sleep, for our family. Until now, also as Salesian Brother, I keep on doing this.

What wouldyou like to share with the young people in Vietnam?

Salesian life is beautiful! If you lookat Don Bosco's photos with young people, you will find the Salesian life and your vocation! Don Bosco's close accompaniment of the young is a matter of the heart.

Related news article:

  • AustraLasia 5215 (III) A true testimony for the whole Congregation - new missionaries from Vietnam at Valdocco (150th expedition)

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