Embracing PNG Culture
(A reflection of a Vietnamese OTP whose training is about to end but was extended in the country due to Corona Virus pandemic)
Frater.Joseph Hoang Quoc Phan was born in Huong Khe - Ha Tinh (Vietnam into a family of seven children, of which four dedicated their lives to God. The desire of the age of “tam thap nhi lap” (only at the age of thirty can one establish oneself well in life) impelled Frt. Phan to decide to spend his life for the mission in the distant island Papua New Guinea and as a result gained unforgettable experiences.
CHOOSING RELIGIOUS LIFE AT HIS MOTHER'S INTRODUCTIONS
“May my parents have good health to raise and educate us to be your disciples, O God.” That is the prayer Frt. Phan’s mother taught him and his siblings in their childhood. That simple prayer was deeply imprinted in his soul as a living ideal as he shared: “Since I was a child, I joined the altar services until I finished secondary school. Then I joined the parish choir. After high school, the flame of God’s call started burning strongly in me. The support of my family helped me keep going on the path of serving others”.
Upon the information about the SVD provided him by his sister, who is a sister of the “Fode Charity” congregation, Frt. Phan took the entrance test, passed and joined the SVD congregation in Vietnam in his second year of university. Realizing the importance of education, Frt. Phan finished his degree in Sociology and Community Service at the “Open University” in HCM City. The foundation of this knowledge is really useful for a missionary in his mission to serve the community and others. Frt. Phan said: “Sociology and Community Service has human beings as its object, especially the voiceless people, and its goal is to gain advocate for their rights and to liberate them from their suffering. Through my studies, I understood more about human psyche. I also knew the way of looking for the resources to help and develop society. This helped decrease my anxiety when I first interacted with people in the missionary site.”
From the cradle of his family where the seed of his vocation was sowed, Frt. Phan entered into a bigger house, that is the SVD, where he could find an open environment which was established by the formators for the self-improvement of the candidates in different dimensions. Besides, the candidates also had many chances to explore and develop their own skills in music, art, sport, etc… As Frt. Phan shared: “I can see that the congregation has particular programs in every part of the formation. After passing the entrance test for studying Philosophy and Theology, the postulant will attend the novitiate. After professing vows at the novitiate, the seminarians will join the Philosophy community to study Philosophy. After that they can choose either to serve in a parish for one year or to attend the OTP (Oversea Training Program in which they will experience living and serving interculturally) for two or three years. Then they can either come back to their homeland or stay at the mission place to complete the Theology program. At the third year of the Theology program, they will finally profess their vows, then they will be ordained and sent out for mission after the fourth year in Theology”. Frt. Phan expressed his gratitude for being formed and trained in a suitable environment and inspired by his very first teacher – Jesus and then by the those missionaries who somehow instructed him - a young missionary - from the the very start until now.
UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCES IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Wishing to gain experience in a real mission area - after finishing Philosophical courses - Frt. Joseph Phan signed up for the OTP proactively to serve in PNG where there are more than 800 different tribes. Although PNG is a wild country, Frt. Phan still did not hesitate to involve himself in different daily activities in order to bring the spiritual benefits to the native people over there. “Any missionary who comes here must spend 200% of his effort to sow the seeds of Good News in the soil of the hearts of the native people. Through this mission, I deeply acknowledge the effort of the former foreign missionaries in the early time to bring the Catholic faith into Vietnam”, said Frt. Phan.
There are more than 600 islands in different sizes. It was in 1986 that the Good News was brought to these islands by the SVD missionaries for the first time. This is the spirit of the SVD congregation: a missionary will consider it as his home wherever he goes and joins the local SVD community. It is this spirit that greatly supports Frt. Phan’s commitment and helps him not to feel lonely in a foreign country. Talking about his daily works, Frt. Phan said: “Besides spending time studying the new language, culture, mission skills..., I also served at parishes which are run by SVD missionaries. In particular, I was assigned to work with the youth, the altar servers in Kunjingini (one of the parishes) every Saturday. We spent time praying the Chaplet of the Divine of Mercy after mass and doing other activities. I also went out to farther mission places with the pastor to celebrate Sunday mass for those who could not come to the parish.
Once leaving his own country, the missionary will face certain difficulties in terms of languages, cultures, foods, lifestyle…, but especially in PNG one has to deal with so many difficulties in transportations, diseases, and the shortage of goods, medicines, and nursing equipment. Lacking things might be a burden for many but not for Frt. Joseph. The more simple and quiet life is in PNG, the closer he can come to God in his prayerful life, especially at the beginning of his mission when he experienced the difficulties of learning a new language and adapting himself to a new life. It was an unforgettable memory of being robbed by guns and knives when Frt. Phan first came to PNG: “I was a little bit nervous at that time.” He also recalled, “Being robbed in PNG is normal. Practicing simplicity in daily life, I got over those trials by my effort and by my acceptance of whatever I have or receive from the congregation”.
PNG is a country which has only 18% citizens living in cities. The tribal characteristic is still strongly manifest in the life of native people. It is noteworthy that they have an anthem which deeply reflects religious spirit. Many people joined the Roman Catholic Church. But later on, they switch to other religions because of their weak faith. “I feel that their faith was not strong enough, and they didn’t have many chances to deepen their faith so they could not experience the meaning and value of it”, said Frt. Phan.
After serving and practicing one and a half years as a missionary outside of his homeland, Frt. Phan will return to Vietnam to continue his study of Theology in the middle of this year. Frt. Phan looks forward to his future: “Nowadays, the number of the youth involved in the act of sowing the seeds of the Good News is decreases, while the needs of the harvest of evangelization and re-evangelization is immense. I, myself, resolvedly hold to the ideal of dedication for the mission of evangelization of the congregation and of the Church”.