January is a special month for the Society of the Divine Word. That’s because January 15 is the feast day of St. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the missionary order, and January 29 is the feast day of St. Joseph Freinademetz, who was one of the first Divine Word Missionaries to China.
At the beginning of 2022, Vocation Directors Fr. Thinh Ngo, SVD and Fr. Anthony Cong Nguyen, SVD attended a course for formators and vocation directors in Nemi, Italy located just outside of Rome. During that experience, they visited places of significance to the Catholic faith and the Divine Word Missionaries. They both said that their visit to the childhood home of St. Joseph Freinademetz had a lasting impact on them.
Reflections from Fr. Anthony Cong Nguyen, SVD
I stepped on holy grounds!
Since I was a child, I have always dreamed about visiting holy sites around the world, especially places mentioned in the Bible. I cannot believe that a big part of my dream has come true!
A few years ago, I was invited to participate in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We visited the Jordan River, Rome, Fatima, and Lourdes. I was overwhelmed when standing and walking on these holy grounds where Jesus was baptized, preached the Beatitudes, ate, and fished with his disciples on the lake of Galilee. I thought that I was dreaming, but I was there in person. These holy grounds have affirmed my vocation, faith, love and my services to God, the Church, and my own congregation, the Society of the Divine Word.
Again, at the beginning of 2022, I had another opportunity to visit holy grounds. I participated in a course for formators and vocation directors conducted in Nemi, Italy. One of the best parts of this course was a pilgrimage to the holy ground called Oies, where St. Joseph Freinademetz was born and grew up. My heart was pounding hard when standing in the room where St. Joseph was born. I could feel his holiness, gentleness, kindness, and friendliness still present in the room and throughout the house. I knelt to pray in front of his statue for a long time. All I asked St. Joseph was to help me transform my heart like his. I know I am not gifted with linguistics, but I can at least be a sign of love like him, and I believe this universal language is understood by everyone! St. Joseph left a deep footprint in the hearts of the people in China where he served, but also in my own heart and also the people of Oies. The whole town was decorated with his photos, statues, and name. I am very grateful for having a wonderful spiritual father and confrere. He is truly my real hero and model.
Fr. Anthony Nguyen, SVD at the birthplace of St. Joseph Freinademetz.
In short, I am in debt to my congregation because without its support, I would never be able to step on these holy grounds. My life has been enriched graciously because these holy grounds have helped me deepen my understanding and my faith in a God that I have never seen or met yet knowing that He is always present in the world and in my heart, and I am truly loved by Him regardless of who I am and what I have done!!!
Reflections from Fr. Thinh Ngo, SVD
During our trip for the conference, we had the opportunity to visit various historical landmarks around Rome. I even had an opportunity to attend a papal audience.
One place we visited was the SVD Generalate in Rome, which is where various SVD confreres come to live and study in Rome. It’s also where our General Superior Fr. Paulus Budi Kleden, SVD resides. The Generalate is an important place because it’s where many major decisions are made. Another place of significance that we visited was the SVD Conference and Retreat Center in Nemi. That’s where all the General Chapters of the Society are held. It was also the site where our courses for the program were held. I appreciate the opportunity to meet our general superior and the opportunity to visit the SVD headquarters in Rome.
One of the major highlights from my trip included a visit to Oies, Italy. Oies is the birthplace of St. Joseph Freinademetz, the first SVD missionary to China. Oies is located up in the mountains of northern Italy. It was a surreal feeling spending a few days up in the mountains where St. Joseph was born and grew up. We visited and celebrated Mass in his birth home and learned about his childhood. It was overwhelming to be in such a beautiful historical place and step foot where St. Joseph Freinademetz also once set foot.
Another historical moment for me was visiting historical sites in Rome, including all four of the basilicas and the Vatican. We even had an opportunity to sit in a general audience and see Pope Francis up close and personal. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to shake Pope Francis’ hand and even hold it for a brief second when he passed by to greet people in the audience.
Overall, my trip to Rome was very enriching, not only for my ministry as a vocational director, but as an SVD. It allowed me to learn more about the SVD’s rich history in a new way.