What makes you happy or joyful as a Salesian brother?
When I was in the post-novitiate community of Dalat in Vietnam, I saw that we did not pay much attention to those who would become Salesian priests or who were Salesian brothers. We lived together and took care of each other as one family and together we served young people, so I was very happy there to be a Salesian, a member of a family.
In Belgium we don’t pay so much attention to that. Everyone is the same and we are a family. Therefore, I find it difficult to say what makes me happy as a Salesian brother. But I always know that I am happy to be a Salesian as a Salesian brother here in Belgium because I love the life of the Salesian community. Indeed, the community where I do practical training is really a family. We are four confreres living together and everyone has different tasks, but we make time for each other. We eat together, go shopping together, pray together and watch TV together. To live and work together make me joyful in Salesian life. Furthermore, I want to be a Salesian brother because I think that that is the best choice God has chosen for me.
Who is your Salesian brother model? Or how was the process of discerning your form of Salesian vocation - to become priest or brother?
When I was an aspirant, I learnt about many Salesian saints. And the one I love most is Blessed Artemide Zatti because he had always something to say to make his patients happy.
In the novitiate, we must choose to become priest or brother. I liked being a brother since I had been in pre-novitiate. Everyone who asked me why I looked to be a brother, I replied: 'I like to be a brother because that suits my character!' When the novice master asked me about that, I replied in the same way. But he advised me that I should not choose to be a brother because I liked it, or because everyone wanted me to be a brother. He encouraged me to choose to become a brother if that was what God had chosen for me. Afterwards, I heard that we needed more Salesian brothers. And I thought that that was possibly what God had said to me. Then I told the novice master that I wanted to be Salesian brother because that was what the Salesian Congregation needed. And I told him I believed that God had chosen this way of life for me!
How was your missionary vocation born?
I remembered that once in Vietnam we were visited by a Provincial who talked to us about missionary vocations. He was asked by another aspirant about what missionaries did in a missionary country, especially in Europe. He answered we were called to do what the community liked you to do! For me that was a good answer. Then I wished that if ever I would become a missionary that I would love to do whatever my missionary community wanted me to!
Furthermore, when I was a post-novice, there were so many missionaries who visited us and talked about how they had worked and how they had been happy there. I was impressed by their testimony. Then I thought that the missionary vocation was possibly also for me. And I talked about it with Fr Thomas, the Rector of the post-novitiate. And then with the other superiors, he helped me to discern my missionary vocation.
What is the specific contribution of the Salesian brother to our mission and community?
I don’t know exactly what the specific contribution of the Salesian brother to our mission and community is. I think that the community where I live now, or the congregation, is still good without me and what I have tried to do may be nothing. But for me, the Salesian vocation is all my life. I believe that I am happy to be a Salesian as a brother. As Salesian brother, I try to be happy with my confreres in the community. I would love to do whatever they needed me to do. And I try to be happy to be present among young people in the school. When I can work for the community and for the students, I feel happy. I think my contribution as Salesian brother in my community and mission is to be joyful and make people around me happy.
How can one make the vocation of Salesian brother more visible in the Church?
When I was a student I thought that someone wanted to be a religious because he or she wanted to do something special for the church, for poor people, or to escape from the world. I had chosen to be religious also for that reason. But when I lived the post-novitiate and now live in Belgium, my motivation has changed. I have recognized that religious life is more than what I can do, but religious life is how I live happily. I am firstly happy, so I share my happiness with people I serve. I think that we cannot only talk about religious life, but also by doing what we can do is also how we proclaim that religious life is joyful life. And being a Salesian brother is also an alternative option to be happy, joyful and to be saintly.
How do you live your missionary life in Project Europe - joys and challenges?
This year I am doing practical training in a community in Belgium. Here in Hechtel, we have a Secondary School. We have a new plan for this year. We try to invite the students to spend one day in our community so that they can feel what the Salesian religious life is about.
It is so difficult for me to work there as an assistant of a teacher because I do not have a good diploma to work there, and also for the language difficulties. Therefore, I study language in the morning, and in the afternoon I try to be present in the playground with our students to play football and to talk to them. And sometimes I help teachers in the school when they need help. And if students are coming to visit our community, I make some cake for them.
Also, I try to be active in our community. I do all I can - from cooking, cleaning, to being always together with the other confreres during meals, always ready to help them if there is some need. I say to myself that I would love to do anything for the community. That makes me happy!
For me the main challenge to live as a missionary in Project Europe is that we do not have so many young conferes to share the mission tasks and to work together. Also, the spiritual life might also be in danger because the Eucharistic celebrations and common prayers in Europe are not so alive and vibrant as they are in my home country.
What sustains your Salesian missionary vocation?
First, the community life! When we pray together, live together and work together, it helps a lot to live my Salesian missionary vocation! Secondly, I always think about what I can do for my community and for young people. Therefore, the apostolic work is also an important energizer for my vocation.