By: Marierose Hoang, Vietnamese Catholic Community
The summer of 2017 is nothing but extraordinary to me. You can have a plan, but at the end it is God who has the final say.
It began on July 1st, when I had the privilege of being part of the delegation led by Bishop Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, VA at The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel, a gathering convened by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Following this conference, with a more in-depth understanding of what it means to be a missionary disciple, I embarked on my 3rd year mission back to a Danang, Vietnam.
At my first training session, I was met by 75 eager and enthusiastic sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, who are mostly from southern Vietnam. In the first two days, my daily prayers consisted of: “God, please help me in fulfilling what you have planned for me, allow me
to completely surrender to your will and let the Holy Spirit dwell in me for the next 8 days.” And yes, He was always by my side and the training was received with much joy and appreciation. And I cannot do this alone. There is a whole community supporting me from behind and they are the hosting sisters of Thanh Tam congregation in Danang (only 8 of them), with the mission of showing “compassion for suffering people – above all to women and the poorest of the poor – by sharing in the teaching and health care mission of the Church”. They have contributed greatly to this success.
I was unknowingly provided with the means to respond to the radical call to missionary discipleship. Vietnam is a communist country of which there is no God. Trying to reinstate the core values of the Catholic faith there on your own, will only bring headache, disappointment and risk of being expelled.
The sisters of St. Paul de Chartres at Thanh Tam are an evangelizing community and truly embody “a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.” An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed.
The Lord sent me to this community and step by step has unveiled his intentions. Many times I have asked myself what is the purpose of my earthly existence. I have learned that the purpose is to collaborate with the sisters in their teaching mission of the Church, a church that goes forth to everyone without exception (E.G. 48). If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go to first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbors, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). In Vietnam, the handicapped children, especially from poor families have been on the margins of society. They are considered the outcasts, the parasites of society. And if they were lucky enough to have some care, it is only for the benefits of certain people taking advantage of their situation.
Going to the peripheries: E.G. 20
- The word of God constantly shows us how the Lord challenges those who believe in him “to go forth.” Abraham received the call to set out for a new land (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Moses heard God’s call: “Go, I send you” (Ex 3:10) and led the people towards the promised land (cf. Ex 3:17). To Jeremiah God says: “To all whom I send you, you shall go” (Jer 1:7). In our day, Jesus’s command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges of the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new mission of “going forth.”Each Christian and community must discern their own path, but all of us are asked to obey the Lord’s call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all of the “peripheries” in the light of the Gospel. For most of the Vietnamese Americans who have left the country when the war ended, the hope of going back is very remote. It is remote not because they are not allowed to come back, but more due to resentment and mistrust of a government thriving on corruption and in a “throwaway culture.” Sandwiched between a generation of boat people who have risked their lives and vowed never to come back and a new generation totally American unable to make sense out of this fierce conviction, the call to come back to lend a hand is not an easy answer. Many times my husband and I have been accused of being pro communist.The Lord has led me to the sisters of St. Paul de Chartres. By his Will, I was able to humbly assist the sisters in providing a new insight to the educational system for these less fortunate children. With constant prayers and guided by the Holy Spirit, we have started slowly re-instituting the core values of Catholic teaching in their daily school activities. The training of the teacher is far more than learning ideas. It includes the training of character. It is a preparation of the spirit. Just as Saint Pope John XXI said:
“It is possible to see a clear analogy between the Shepherd in the Church and that of the prudent and generous educator in the Montessori method, who with tenderness, with love and with a wise evaluation of gifts, knows how to discover and bring to light the most hidden virtues and capacities of the child.”
From the start in summer of 2015 at Thanh Tâm Special Education Center to this summer of 2017, it has been quite a journey filled with Joy and Gratitude. The seed of spreading the Montessori Education to the less fortunate children in Vietnam has started to grow. It takes good soil, with good seed that is well tended by an attentive gardener. Without these we cannot expect a crop to grow and produce abundant fruit. (Matthew 13:2)
It is still a continuing journey in which I hope the call to be a missionary disciple will stay in me for the remainder of my life on earth.