A Vietnamese Jesuit among Thai youth
Pham Ngo Hoang Dung, known to all as Dzung, is a young Vietnamese Jesuit priest who committed himself to the Region of Thailand. Before his ordination, he had already done three years of “regency” or involvement in the Jesuits’ apostolic work and community life in Thailand. He returned last autumn as dynamic as ever. We met him at the Seven Fountains Spiritual Centre and asked him what brought him to Thailand.
To be a missionary
I finished my philosophy in Vietnam, I was sent to Thailand for three years of
apostolic work, the regency. During my time here, I felt I wanted to be a
missionary. The Thai people made me feel welcome, especially the youth. I got
along well with them. Moreover, the Jesuit community greatly supports me and
gives me a chance to learn and grow. In a word, the love of the Thai people
brought me to minister in Thailand. As a young priest here, the silent prayer,
the care of the community, and the smiles on the face of the youth have fueled
my passion for working, accompanying, and being present with them.
Chaplain for all
I am a Catholic priest and a “university chaplain”, but I do not only dedicate my efforts to Catholic students. I welcome all students of other religions, such as Buddhism and animism. All are welcome to join our activities. Most of our network students are from indigenous groups such as Karen, Akha, Hmong, Lahu, and Thai Yay. Our chaplaincy activities have a variety of purposes: they lead the students towards true friendships (e.g., Sports Day), they allow them to share their love with the poor (especially at Christmas and Children’s Day), and they give them tools for building their spiritual lives (with prayer time and the “Retreat on the road” project).
transparent, I could add that I notice that the youth in Thailand now do not
care much about religion. For instance, attending mass does not seem to be
their priority. They are not interested in religious activities as such. It drives
us to be creative and to offer different ways to support their spiritual growth.
In this context, the Jesuits of Thailand believe in the Youth Ministry, and
here at the Seven Fountains community, our young priests are sent to work
full-time with the youth. It is encouraging.
Special care for students in need
Another of my responsibilities is to be the director of the Sponsorship Fund Project. It is a venture created by the Jesuit community of Seven Fountains. Fr. Miguel, the Regional Superior for Thailand, started it with expatriates (foreigners living in Thailand) in 1997. It grew over the years and now helps students, from kindergarten to the university level, in several places across the North of Thailand. We offer partial scholarships, for instance, up to 50% of the tuition fees, uniforms, books and school supplies.
recipients are chosen according to their economic conditions and desire to
study. We will support them if they are in poverty and show a great willingness
to learn. In addition, we are setting up something new: a forum to help
scholarship recipients and their sponsors to meet, including visits to the
villages and the schools.
For tomorrow’s leaders
Reflecting on my role as a Jesuit priest among the students - mainly those who attend university - I think that the greatest need among the youth of Thailand is for them to meet a good leader and to find an open place where they can attain happiness and meaning in their lives. I try to be this “good leader”. It means caring for them and allowing them to get involved, learn and grow.
leader has to be patient enough to accompany them and forgive them when they
make mistakes. The activities should be well organized with a clear purpose,
raising the interest to join. As much as possible, there is room for the young
people to be among the organizers in each activity. This way, they learn to be the
leaders of tomorrow.
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