Updated: August 05, 2021 11:38 AM GMT
Bishop Joseph Tran Van Toan (center) and other priests concelebrate Divine Mercy Mass at An Son Church on April 11. (Photo courtesy of giaophanlongxuyen.org)
Priests in a southern Vietnamese diocese whose top priority is evangelization have been urged to seek solitude and refresh their private and pastoral lives as effective ways to train themselves during the pandemic.
Bishop Joseph Tran Van Toan of Long Xuyen said the local Church has been greatly affected by the stubborn Covid-19 pandemic for over one year. Religious activities including priests' life and ministry have been turned upside down.
Bishop Tran said parish priests have had to suspend pastoral plans, catechism courses, public services, pastoral visits to families and meetings with followers of other faiths. As a result, priests can escape the pressures of pastoral duties, have more leisure time and relax.
The 66-year-old bishop, who has made evangelization the diocese's top priority, said 28 priests and 13 newly ordained priests will be quietly reshuffled and assigned to parishes this month as local Catholics are not allowed to gather to welcome them.
He said 40 elderly priests who live at a home for retired clergy face inappropriate healthcare services and have no visits from other people. The bitter cup of priesthood because of age and illness becomes even more bitter due to the historic pandemic.
"So we priests are all called to follow our Holy Master and follow striking examples of our patron saint John Mary Vianney by taking full advantage of the pandemic situation to go into solitude," he said, adding that the saint, whose feast is on Aug. 4, lived a life of asceticism and fasting, conquered the devil, the world and the flesh, and became the embodiment of Jesus.
With penitential humility and dogged determination, we re-establish a balance in our priestly life
The prelate encouraged priests to carry out specific activities that help them enter into solitude in a spiritually effective way for their regular training duties.
“We should take the time to reorganize our lives during the pandemic. With penitential humility and dogged determination, we re-establish a balance in our priestly life, a balance between activities and contemplation, a balance between work and rest, a balance between personal activities and social relationships, and a balance among physical, mental and spiritual exercises,” he said.
He said keeping a balanced life will make their priestly life peaceful, holy and full of joy and hope in the priestly ministry.
He urged them “to celebrate daily Masses and recite the Liturgy of the Hours slowly, earnestly and fervently in ecclesial communion. In this way, we experience the embodiment of Jesus the Shepherd present among our brothers and sisters as mediators between God and humans.”
Bishop Tran called on priests to cultivate a spirit of curiosity by reading in their free time. He promised soon to hand them copies of The Power of Silence by Cardinal Robert Sarah, which offers profound exploration of the silence in which readers hear the still, quiet voice of God, and thus come to know the truth about themselves.
“You should take the time to read it and nurture love of reading with conscious awareness that the Holy Spirit continues to form us and lead us to all truth,” he said.
The head of the Episcopal Commission for the Laity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam said that although pastoral plans were suspended, parish priests need to foster shepherds’ charity by developing pastoral initiatives. They spend time completing parish records and setting up filing cabinets at the request of the bishop house's archives.
By doing so, we become faithful and wise stewards to God, distributing the grain to our brothers at the right time
Finally, he said, even though priests could not meet the laity amid the coronavirus outbreak, they must fervently pray for them, especially those who are seriously affected by Covid-19. They should undertake fresh initiatives to support people in material need of food and drink.
“By doing so, we become faithful and wise stewards to God, distributing the grain to our brothers at the right time,” he said.
Bishop Tran said seeking solitude to undergo priestly training is the mission and the Gospel not just during the pandemic but throughout their priestly journey.
Long Xuyen Diocese, which was founded in 1960, has 328 priests serving 230,000 Catholics in the provinces of An Giang and Kien Giang and part of Can Tho.