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Updated: February 03, 2002 05:00 PM GMT
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De La Salle Brothers in Vietnam are making efforts to nurture vocations through pastoral work in order to better serve the ever-changing society.

One of the reasons for the shortage of De La Salle vocations is that young people prefer pursuing the priesthood, said Brother Francois d´Assise Tran Van Anh, provincial superior of the Congregation of Brothers of Christian Schools.

"East Asian peoples, including the Vietnamese, think very highly of the priesthood, so the youth find non-clerical vocations not so attractive," he told UCA News recently.

After the reunification of the country in 1975, the brothers had to give up their mission as a teaching order as the congregation´s 23 schools in the South were nationalized.

Following the 1975 event, Brother Anh said, "We hesitated to develop vocations because we were not able to determine our new direction and the government´s policy on religious congregations was not yet clear."

He said that after 1975 the congregation lost two-thirds of its membership, most of whom left the congregation to get married or migrated. The remaining congregation made a living by giving tutorial lessons, Brother Anh recalled.

It was not until 1987 that two brothers professed their first vows, the 70-year-old brother added.

However, the congregation´s most recent statistics show that from 1987 to 2001, 48 brothers professed their first vows, and between 1996 and 2001, 10 brothers professed their perpetual vows. Only five who professed their first vows quit the congregation.

The congregation´s scholasticate has 16 members. There are six candidates preparing for novitiate and 16 brothers have professed their temporary vows.

Nowadays, new vocations for the congregation are found among university students staying in boarding houses run by the brothers, those recommended by women Religious working with students and youths, and through parishes where the brothers teach catechism.

"To me, whether a vocation is clerical or not does not matter because what is important is commitment to the consecrated life," said Brother Vincent Ly Hoai Vu, who found his vocation while staying at a De La Salle boarding house.

"The number of vocations is increasing," Brother Anh said. Brothers are sent every year to dioceses to introduce the De La Salle vocation, he added.

Brother Anh said the congregation needs more members to explore new ministries as society at large is changing. He cited drug abuse among school children as a big challenge for the brothers as educators.

"Education can exert a positive impact on people, but given Vietnam´s socio-economic situation we think it is necessary to combine educational efforts with pastoral work and social services," Brother Anh said.

As such, the congregation now runs several vocational training centers providing skills training in carpentry, computers, sculpture and motorcycle repair. The most recently opened center is located in Dac Min district of Dac Lac province in the central highlands.

Pierre Pham Minh Khoi, a De La Salle candidate and a university student, told UCA News he wants to help young drug addicts as a De La Salle brother.

Brother Anh said one needs only a high school certificate to be admitted as a De La Salle candidate while other congregations require a university degree.

The congregation financially sponsors a number of its candidates who are college or university students, though Brother Anh noted that this is risky as some of them might refuse to join the congregation after their graduation.

The congregation´s last chapter decided to establish De La Salle communities in poor residential areas.

The congregation now has 90 professed members, 60 of whom live and work in four communities in Ho Chi Minh City.


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