Dream becomes reality in Vietnam

Fr. Francis (far right) with students in the Vietnamese formation community

Dehonian spirit growing

Fr. Francis Vu Tran, SCJ, emigrated from Vietnam to the United States when he was a child. As an adult, he has returned several times to visit family but in recent years, he has also had the opportunity to visit a group of people who didn’t exist in Vietnam when he was a child: the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

The community was just taking root when he first visited it four years ago in Ho Chi Minh City. Two years later, he came again and saw many changes.

And now, “it is much different,” he said. “Instead of just a few missionaries we now have several Vietnamese SCJs who are in leadership.”

Fr. Francis went to Vietnam in July to attend his cousin’s ordination. After family visits, and attending Masses of Thanksgiving, Fr. Francis went back to Ho Chi Minh City. There, he had the opportunity to meet with two new SCJ priests, Fr. Phong Tran and Fr. Quang Tran. The last time he saw them they were still students preparing for ministry. Now, Frs. Phong and Quang work in formation, giving guidance to fellow Vietnamese who are discerning their vocation with the SCJs.

“Since they are among the first Vietnamese to be ordained, they receive much responsibility, perhaps more so than other newly ordained priests,” said Fr. Francis.

Fr. Phong is director of the formation house for pre-candidates. These are men who live and pray together as a community while completing their college studies. The tradition in Vietnam –– for any religious community or diocese –– is that men do not begin their seminary studies (including philosophy) until after they have completed their undergraduate degree.

There are approximately 20-25 young men in the pre-candidate program. If they continue with the community after college, the next step is the Philippines, where they start as postulants and then move to the novitiate. If they profess vows, they remain in the Philippines to do their theology studies.

Approximately 10-15 students are studying in the Philippines now. Two Vietnamese priests and three deacons have gone through the Vietnamese program.

Besides the formation program that Frs. Quang and Phong are a part of, there is another directed by Fr. Vincent Nguyen, SCJ. Fr. Vincent is a Vietnamese member of the French Province. The program he directs is a more open discernment program, a place for people who are looking at religious life and the priesthood but who have not committed to a particular community or diocese.

As with many developing entities, the focus in the first years is on formation. It is difficult for newly developed communities to establish ministries in Vietnam or have responsibility for a parish. It is hoped that the community can receive a parish in Ho Chi Minh in the near future so that it has a base near the formation communities. However, in the future Fr. Francis sees the SCJs moving to rural areas where the need for priests is greater. “This is where we can really offer a Dehonian presence,” he said.

But again, for now the emphasis is on formation. The SCJs are building a formation house near the university that should be able to hold 30 more students. It is hoped that the project can be finished by April, 2013.

Fr. Halim, an Indonesian SCJ currently ministering in Vietnam

“This is a true international community,” concluded Fr. Francis. “For me it is good to see missionaries from outside of the country working together with Vietnamese to build the SCJ presence, the Kingdom of God, in Vietnam. Instead of just being a dream to have a Dehonian presence in the country, it is now a reality.”

The U.S. Province has played a significant role financially, supporting many of the basic needs of the community in the country. “You can see the fruit of the work –– that of the U.S. Province and other countries,” said Fr. Francis. “The Dehonian spirit is alive and growing in Vietnam.”