My Vietnam Story

My Vietnam Story   It has been 13 months since I arrived here in Vietnam, my new mission.  Time passed  very quickly with so many experiences, so many discoveries and learning.  One of my discoveries is the grace of obedience.  It was obedience to the Plan of god that made me come.  This is the grace of obedience that gives me the strength to do the work.  I am  amused by my last experience of traveling 12 hours at night (5 pm to 5 am) make the visit in a parish the whole day and then go back to Ho Chi Minh that night for another 12 hours of bus ride.. 5 pm to 5 am the next day) and I survived at 70!   My work here brought me into many places primarily because we are looking at places where we can establish a 3rd community in the future.  Secondly we are trying to promote vocations to the religious life.  The best way to do this is to go to the parishes and be in touch with young who attend the regular catechism classes.  This year we gave priority to go the parishes of our sisters who become powerful witnesses before their fellow parishioners.  It is still an abundant harvest time for vocation to the religious life and the priesthood. Families consider it a big blessing when a son or daughter join the religious life or the priesthood.  The downside is that they feel ashamed before their relatives and neighbors when a son or daughter leaves the convent or seminary.  Some Congregations have 140 Junior Sisters!! (I almost fell from my chair when I heard that).  You see them trooping in to Church dressed the same way with their hair gathered in a ponytail in the same way.   There are 202 Congregations, Societies of Apostolic Life and Secular Institutes in Ho Chi Minh Archdiocese   There are 6793 Religious in Ho Chi Minh There are 20,438 Religious in the whole of Vietnam 3,297 Men Religious 17,141 Women Religious There are 375   Communities in Ho Chi Minh City There are so many Congregations here at the moment hoping to attract young men and women to join them in the religious life.  However one has to go out of the cities to find most of them.  The newly urbanized areas in a fast growing economy attract the young to try out other options.  Like other fast growing economies the number of children in the family is also changing.  Some 10 years ago there used to be 5 – 6 children in a family but now the young couples opt for 1 – 2.  In 10 years’ time entrance to the religious life will predictably be fewer. In the first few weeks of my mission I was very struck by the amount of vocal prayers before and after the Mass aside from the recitation of the Rosary, the regular Way of the Cross and the many devotions.  After many story telling I began to understand and appreciate these seemingly rote prayers.  One of the assignments in my English class with the aspirants (young women who are desiring to join us in the Assumption) was for them to listen to their grandparents recount the origin of their family.  They had to write that story in English.  Their stories form a pattern and I did not realize how rich these stories were. Almost all of the families migrated from the North to Saigon (South) in 2 waves.  They left the North, their homes, their land, their security and comfort, their profession and work because the South offers them the possibility of practicing their Catholic faith.  So you will find in Ho Nai where we have our second community a long street that has 18 Churches!  They are not small chapels but real big Churches.  On top of a good number of houses you can look up and see larger than life-size statues of Christ or Mary or one of the saints.  Losing their properties during the time of migration was not the end of their difficult experience for coming to the South meant settling down in the forest, having to cut the giant forest trees, clear the land, build their little huts and then begin to plant.  In about 30 years the forest have developed into villages and the small huts have become houses they are proud of.  They have moved on and rebuilt their lives.  Some of the migrants were business men or traders having no idea how to farm.  It was very difficult times but they have no regrets but rather a deep sense of thanksgiving.  “Here in the South we can practice our faith. God continues to be with us.”  Vietnam is only 7% Catholics but what strong and lively faith they have.  I am continually inspired and touched by their faith. And what about the vocal prayers?  Some of the Sisters shared that their great grandparents did not know how to read and prayed from their heart and when there were no books or Bibles as they were running away for some years from the war they only had the Rosary and the prayers learned by heart to hold on to, to strengthen them in the midst of their very hard experiences.    Vocal prayers kept them through.  Today when I hear the rhythmic sound of their vocal prayers it becomes an occasion for me to be grateful for the witness of their faith and their confidence in the God who saves. The Church becomes their gathering place to celebrate, a place to express their faith, a place to be nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharist.  It is a place of communion.  They also have a very strong sense of Ancestral Worship.  The Church honors this tradition with the Mass every Monday celebrated in the crypt for members of the family who have passed away.  The crypt holds hundreds of urns with the ashes of their loved ones.  After the Monday Mass there are prayers for the dead and then many of them would go and say a special prayer before the urn of their ancestor. We had the grace of the visit of Sr. Martine, Superior General, who waited for so many years to come to Vietnam.  This was the right moment, the right time because she had no difficulty whatsoever coming in.  We were grateful and happy for her presence among us.  It was a packed 10 days visit for her to know firsthand the mission of the Congregation in this part of the world as well as to acquaint herself with the Vietnamese reality, the culture, its history… the Church.  During her visit 6 young women were received as postulants.  Two members of their respective families joined us for the short ceremony and lunch that followed.  For some of the families this was their first contact with the Congregation and appreciated knowing us.   They left with the assurance that their daughter made this choice.  It was a happy occasion for all of us and a time of blessings. This month of July 3 Junior Sisters and the 6 new postulants are in 3 different parishes for a month long summer immersion – summer work in the parishes and coordinated by the parish priests.  A group works with the Parish of the Salesian Fathers (Don Bosco) and mainly do tutorial work.  The other group works with Parish of the Redemptorist Fathers doing something similar to the first group.  What is interesting this year is our involvement in the third parish that is for the indigenous villages.  It is a new experience for the Sister and two postulants to interact with the indigenous Catholic families. I am in touch with the three groups every other day for regular updates but we will have to wait till the end of the month to listen to their stories.  They will definitely be very interesting and rich. Sr. Maria Emmanuel, r.a. My VIetnam Story