Closed borders open educational opportunities

Fr. John (center) meets with the SCJ students in Vietnam

While the pandemic has closed most borders, it has opened up a world full of educational opportunities.

The District of Vietnam has five SCJs preparing for final vows; they will make their final profession on the feast of the Sacred Heart, June 11. Fr. Francis-Vu Tran, SCJ, district superior, reached out to Fr. John van den Hengel, SCJ, to see if he could provide a few sessions for the program. Fr. John is a member of the Ottawa community in the Canadian Region, about 8,500 miles (13,700 kilometers) away from the students’ desks in Vietnam.

With the help of the internet, Fr. John held four video-conference sessions for the Vietnamese SCJs between April 13-22. Time zone differences had the students and teacher meeting at the same time, but at different ends of the days. The students were in front of their computers at 8:00 pm, while Fr. John was next to his at 9:00 am.

The topic of the sessions focused on the social work or the social spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon; Fr. John said that the topic was chosen by Fr. Francis-Vu.

“It was interesting to note that the Vietnamese had little awareness or understanding of the French context out of which Fr. Dehon came and which determined much of his activity and vision,” said Fr. John.

“All of the Vietnamese had their formation in the Philippines and so language was not a problem,” he continued. Two of the Vietnamese –– Vincent Thoan Van Do and John Hung Dinh –– had done a pastoral year in Toronto. Paul Linh Hai Le had spent time in Dublin. “It was quite a cosmopolitan group!”

Bringing the Dehonian charism to an Asian context

Fr. John said that “the challenge of such a presentation is to allow the Vietnamese to get beyond the literal vision of Fr. Dehon and his engagement in the social sphere and to interpret it within an Asian context with a totally different history and culture – and politics! How do you translate Fr. Dehon’s notion of ‘pure love,’ which animated his social engagement, into the complex environment of Vietnam?”

He said that the Zoom sessions allowed for interaction between the students and presenter, “but it would have been a joy to have been able to sit in the same room in Ho Chi Minh City and to probe their vocation to the charism of Leo Dehon.”

Fr. John added that COVID-19 has had a much different impact on Vietnam than on many other countries. There have been only 2,843 cases of COVID-19 in the country and 35 deaths. Closed borders and other restrictions have been credited for controlling the virus. “While the Province of Ontario is in lockdown, the students in Vietnam are now fairly free in their movements.”


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