Interview with Cl. Peter Son Lam, SDB
Kinshasa, D.R. of Congo DRC, 16 July 2019 -- Cl. Peter Son Lam was sent by the Rector Major as a member of the 148th missionary expedition. He is now in his practical training in Kinshasa (capital city of DRC: Democratic Republic of Congo). In the largest Catholic country in Africa (DRC) there are currently two Salesian provinces (AFC and ACC) with a total of 183 SDBs and 35 novices.
What do you think of the one month missionary course in Italy 2017?
The 148th missionary expedition consisted of confreres from five different continents, we strove to overcome all barriers to become a family in God living the Salesian spirit together. Our stay with the general superiors and multinational members was a valuable experience, which helped me to consolidate a general view of our Congregation. From this position I became aware of the Salesians who were and are always willing to open up to new horizons and new realities of life.
The pilgrimage to the Salesian holy places not only allowed me to touch the very places where Don Bosco lived and worked but also gave me a rare opportunity to find the source of my vocation. I melted down when I first touched Don Bosco's house. I saw him there, I felt Don Bosco through the joys, sorrows, and especially his intense desires for young people. I believe that Don Bosco and the first Salesians have accompanied me to the mission land.
What did you learn from the young people and Salesians during your language studies in France?
The initial days in France, I was like a baby: language, culture and behaviour were too different for us from Vietnam. Most French-speaking Salesians were elderly, but in spite of that I adapted quickly. They had a life very similar to what I had learnt about Salesians in books, which were fully expressed in a humble, simple, but delightful way of life. They inspired me to know the right image of Don Bosco through all three aspects: father, teacher and friend of young people. There was no difference between Salesians and young people but life was filled with love and mutual trust.
First feelings about Africa - DRC Congo? Surprise or learning lessons?
In my opinion, the Congo is really a country with great potential because it is endowed by nature: the good climate, extremely rich resources. However, political instability and ethnic conflict have caused the country to lose everything. Social security is insufficient for people; unemployment is so high that it cannot be controlled. Therefore, the lives of young people have become complicated. This is really a great challenge to the Salesians.
The initial days here in the Congo were the most unforgettable of my life. When I arrived it was summer and I was alone. A true feeling of loneliness. Everything became strange: from food to living conditions, thoughts and feelings of loneliness always lingered in my mind, I even thought I was depressed because of anxiety and fear. At that time, I didn't know what to do, but pray the Rosary to find comfort in Our Lady. Fortunately, after a year of studying the language in France I had a little advantage to easily and quickly integrate into my new way of life.
What can we learn from the African Youth or from African Salesians?
In one of the good night talks, I narrated Don Bosco's difficult childhood. How he had lost his father at the age of two and worked in the fields since his family was not able to pay the his school fees. When I finished my sharing, many young people did not believe that it was a true story and seemed to doubt me. In their mind, the Europeans are always wealthy, and it was impossible. They could not digest the fact that this poor young boy from Piedmont (=Don Bosco) started this vastly grown congregation of Salesians.
Don Bosco was like us? Some children shouted and showed interest while discussing it with each other. Yes, John became a founding priest thanks to his determination and steadfast pursuit of the dream. It is also my strong impression when I was near the Congolese young people. When there is a passion, a desire to pursue, they are determined and want to conquer it at all costs, which awakened my soul, whether I was determined to save the souls of young people at all costs or not?
Your message to the young Salesians in the EAO region, who are considering a missionary vocation?
Dear brothers, I know you have some concerns when faced with commitment choices. It is never an easy job. Please spend some time in quiet reflection, open your heart before thinking. Just open the noble soul, the Blessed Mary will show you. We are looking forward to you! She did so with little John Bosco at age 9 and with me. and this is your turn, she will continue to do so. Just believe in Mary Help of Christians and the Sacred heart of Jesus,and then we will see miracles!