Fr Anthony Le Duc
Imagine studying for the priesthood at a seminary where there are no Bible commentaries or online homily resources in your own language. For the students at St John Mary Vianney Major Seminary in Laos this is the situation they face.
Father Anthony Le Duc recently visited Laos to lend a hand.
“I was invited to teach a three-week intensive homiletics course at St John Mary Vianney Major Seminary in Thakhek, Laos,” Fr Anthony says.
“The reason I was invited to teach is not because I am an expert at teaching homiletics, even though I’ve been told that my homilies are not bad. It is because for many years, the seminary in Laos has been extremely lacking in professors for its formation program.
“This leaves both philosophy and theology students to go up in level, year after year, without actually having the knowledge that goes along with it.”
Recently, Fr Joseph Toan Dau began assisting with the academics program at the seminary, and through his efforts, teachers, from Laos and Thailand have been coming to the seminary for short-term intensive courses in both philosophy and theology.
Fr Anthony was born in Vietnam and resettled with his family in the United States following the fall of Saigon. He became a missionary priest of the Society of the Divine Word, and for the last five years has been parish priest at St Michael the Archangel parish in Nong Bua Lamphu, northeastern Thailand, which is part of the SVD Australian Province.
Having become proficient in the Thai language, Fr Anthony faced the challenge of teaching to students whose first language is Lao.
“Fortunately, the Lao language is similar to Thai, and spoken Lao is very much like the dialect in northeastern Thailand, where I have been serving,” he says.
“Due to exposure to Thai television and other mass media, Lao people can understand and read Thai very well, so I was able to conduct my lectures in Thai to Lao seminarians.”
Fr Anthony says that as part of the course, the students were expected to write and preach three homilies – one weekday and two Sunday homilies – in Mass or in front of fellow seminarians. The homilies were videotaped and then evaluated in class or by the audience.
“The homilies, of course, were in Lao, a language that I could understand quite well, thanks to my experience in Nong Bua Lamphu,” he says.
“However, the peer evaluation was a great help for me as a teacher since it helped to confirm my impressions of the homily. The students were also able to give input on certain aspects of word usage or cultural references of which I did not have adequate knowledge.
“The whole experience of teaching in Laos was very enriching for both the students and me.”
On the last day of class, Fr Anthony says the group went to a beautiful Buddhist temple by the Mekong River to pray and reflect on their experience.
“The seminarians said they received more from the class than they had expected. They said they enjoyed learning and being taught as adults, being given the tools to craft a homily, but also being left to pray, to meditate, to create and to revise the homily on their own,” he says.
“Despite the fact that the seminary had no Bible commentaries in Thai or Laos, or any online homily service in their language, the seminarians did their best to come up with a homily that came from the Word of God and the fruits of their own prayer and reflection.”
A version of this article first appeared in "In the Word", the eNews of the Australian Province of the Divine Word Missionaries