Brazil – “The young helped me open my heart”

25 May 2018

(ANS – São Paulo) – “I was born in Vietnam, in a diocesan parish, and I had the desire to be a priest. I read a biography of Dominic Savio and I loved the priest who had shaped his life. I was impressed by the film on Don Bosco. I said to myself, ‘That is the type of priest I would like to be.’” This is the Vietnamese Salesian missionary Joseph Tran Van Lich.

When I came into contact with Salesians I developed a missionary vocation. I arrived in Brazil at the end of 2014 to do my regency. During this period of 4 years I was in different universes and I enriched myself with various cultural, social and ethnic experiences. Arriving at Campo Grande (BCG), I was sent directly to a mission among the indigenous people. I could not speak Portuguese and even less so the language of the Xavante, the people of my ‘promised land’.

I was a deaf-mute at the mission. I was the ‘other’ in that community. It was a difficult but rewarding start of my missionary experience. I lived there a year and a half. I started learning two cultures simultaneously: the ‘western’ Brazilian culture and the Xavante culture. There were some moments of crisis due to the language problem, and I wanted to return home; I prayed and reflected, and then decided to stay. From that moment, when I decided to stay, I found the strength and desire to learn the ‘new’ language and my life began to change in a positive way.

The best part of my training in the Xavante mission was a period of living with the indigenous people. I attended an important cultural festival of the Xavante called ‘Wai-a’. This celebration takes place only every fifteen years and I had the opportunity and joy of being a part of it. After participating in that festival, dancing and singing in the heat of the sun, participating in this ritual with the young natives from the morning till 16:00, I was recognized as one of them.

After the period of my life in the Xavante village, I was sent to a city in Mato Grosso, where I took Portu- guese lessons and helped in a social service. The work at this Salesian mission was very intense as it was in addition to my Portuguese lessons. Life was full of activities and challenges. I was tired, but not discour- aged because my feeling was, ‘This is my vocation; here I am a son of Don Bosco.’ In this period I learned a lot from young people. They taught me not only the language, but also how to develop an open heart. Many of our young people already had one. They would ask me, ‘Do you need help?’; or ‘Can I help you?’ And they invited me to their various creative pastoral activities.

Now I am in my second year of theology at Sao Paulo. This is a large community with people of many different cultures. We also have some missionaries among us – from Vietnam and Indonesia, as well as from various regions of mighty Brazil. This gives me a rich experience of Salesian life and I learn Brazilian culture from my brothers. On the other hand, life in such a large community is challenging because we are so many, and we cannot build a close relationship with everyone.

Besides our studies, we are involved in the apostolate in some institutions and parishes. Since last year I go to an oratory frequented by hundreds of children and young people. I love that oratory because there I meet Don Bosco's favorites, the poor youth! With them, I feel happy in my Salesian vocation.

I leave two pieces of advice for young Salesians who want to be missionaries: the first - ‘Be more Salesian and live our Constitutions more closely, and you will already be a missionary! The second: live Salesian joy, the joy that comes from within, the joy that grows from our intimacy with Jesus Christ or, the smile that is nourished by deep roots. This joy of yours will help young people to overcome their challenges in life. Difficulties and defects are always there, but there is joy, too, and it is up to us to choose joy.”


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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