The 1st Jesuit Brother Plenary Assembly in Vietnam

The extinction of this grade of Brothers would be a great loss, a mutilation with grave consequences for the body of the Society and for its apostolate” – said Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, former General of the Society of Jesus.

Sixty years after the return of the SJ to Vietnam, the first Assembly of Jesuit Brothers was held from 3 April, 2018 to 6 in Thu Duc district, Sai Gon city. With 16 Jesuit brothers as attendants, the Assembly aimed at consolidating, studying, and innovating the identity and mission of the brother vocation. In St. Ignatius’ point of view, it is misleading to say that brother is a ‘poor vocation’ reserved for a superfluous mission.

At the beginning of the 1st day, Fr. Vincent Pham Van Mam, SJ, Provincial of the Vietnam Province referred to the purpose and meaning of the Brother Assembly. He gave thanks to God for many blessed and saints who are Jesuit brothers, especially 18 contemporary Vietnamese brothers in Vietnam Province. Their presence and commitment make the Society more vividly, he said. He also made a presentation of (1) how to deepen the brother identity through documents of GC 34, (2) how to innovate the brother vocation and their mission, and (3) discernment of apostolic work for Vietnamese Jesuit brothers along with opportunities and challenges. Afterward, the brothers put themselves in the prayer for the sake of attending the Assembly under the light and guide of God.

In the afternoon, Fr. FX. Nguyen Hai Tinh, SJ, formation delegate took the role of a guide to help the brothers to deepen the identity of the brother vocation through documents of GC 34. He said that in order to understand the Jesuit brother’s identity, it is necessary to understand the Society’s identity. There are 3 characteristics of the Society: (1) a religious order – Jesuits dedicate themselves to God through the 3 vows; (2) a priestly order – Jesuits do apostolic work relating to priestly ministry, i.e., caring for the soul; (3) an apostolic order – different from the contemplative orders, Jesuits help the souls in external works. There is only one vocation and mission that are displayed in various ways, depending on personal graces and gifts. There is only one criteria in accepting a man to the Society for both priest and brother vocation, that is, he is ready to be sent to anywhere by the Pope.

In regard to the brother identity, Fr. Tinh clarified that brothers are religious men, members of the Society who share the same vocation and mission with others. Brother vocation is a special grace from God to the Society which is the priestly and apostolic order in nature. Brother vocation portrays most purely the true nature of both Jesuit vocation and mission. Brothers are present in the Society, not for the reason of works or services but of their own being, presence and charisma. The brother vocation is not a relic of the past but essential for the Society’s charisma and apostolic life.

Moreover, relating to apostolic ministries, Fr. Tinh highlighted that it is important to distinguish vocation and ministry, for the sake of not identify brother vocation with certain specific ministries. Brothers are open to variety of ministries. However, since ministries are particular methods to do mission, once chosen, they need to be carried out with full dedication and need to be professionalized to be most effective. In order to carry out effectively ministries, brothers should receive a sufficient training: personality, community, spirituality, theology, pastoral, languages and specialty. Self-formation, regular trainings, and older brothers’ accompany are also required. In addition, they should make their commitment to international ministries.

On the 2nd and 3rd days, Fr. John Baptist Phuong Dinh Toai, MI, gave the attendants his topic of the psychology of religious life. Under his presentation, the brothers went deeper to understand their own psychology as well as psychological influence on their religious life. Thanks to psychological learning, their psychological wounds can be healed and basic psychological knowledge can be equipped for them to face to challenges in their religious life and ministries in future.

On the last day, Fr. Truong Van Phuc, SJ, leaded them to the discernment of ministries through 3 steps that Pope Francis has mentioned in the apostolic letter of his holiness to all consecrated people in 2015: Looking back the past with gratitude, living the present with passion, and hoping in the bright future. After discerning, sharing in brotherly inspirable atmosphere, the brothers proposed apostolic possibilities as future communal ministries for Jesuit brothers, including proclamation of Good New (especially for ethnic people), pastoral activities for the poor (especially for the sick), training high school students in faith and humanity.

The first Brother Assembly ended up with thanksgiving Mass said by Fr. Provincial and co-celebrants. The brothers said goodbye to each other with their full of gratitude to God and to the Province.