My name is Thong Dinh Tran. I am a seminarian from Divine Word Missionaries (CTU) in Chicago. I greet you from Holy Rosary Cathedral where I am doing my CTP training this year. It has been almost five months since Fr Duong Nguyen, my supervisor at Holy Rosary, welcomed me to his parish. I have been in very good hands, and I have already benefited from his kind instructions and directions. The Cathedral has become my new home and family.
Here at the Cathedral I have learned about them many kinds of ministries that are offered and I am starting to get the feel of parish life from an insider’s perspective. Needless to say, I find it both challenging and exciting. Here are some of the things that I have observed. These are a credit to Fr. Duong who puts in a great deal of time and effort in supervising me. The weekend after I arrived, he introduced me to the Cathedral community at all the masses. And on the following Wednesday he introduced me to the kids at the 8:15AM school mass.
The parish is a hub of activity. From Monday to Thursday, I work with the staff. I also participate in the different catechism classes at the Conference center. I have learned a lot from the catechetical sessions about the topics that are important to the people. There were all kinds of classes—RCIA, pre-baptism, marriage instruction and Bible sharing. Every evening there were meetings going on like the Knight of Columbus and the Daughter of America. I attend many of them because I want to learn as much as I can about parish life.
My duties include more than just attending meetings. I am a lector for the mass on Wednesdays and I am an assistant altar server for the school mass. Sometimes, I help the sacristans to prepare for wedding masses, anniversaries, quinquennia’s, baptisms and funerals. Fr. Duong often asks me to join him when he visits the sick. He takes time to explain the various ways to minister depending on the need of the parishioners and their circumstances. He asks me to observe the different rites and the various steps that are involved. He wants me to practice the readings beforehand so that I learn them well.
My CTP experience has also been a genuine experience of a different culture. The parish is a cultural study in itself—especially Mexican culture. I now know the Mexican names for various foods, and their music, traditional styles of dancing like the Aztec dance, and how they celebrate birthdays and games. But best of all I am really starting to speak Spanish. I am learning to laugh at myself for all my mistakes in the Spanish language.
Besides all these interesting and exciting experiences, there are many challenges. Learning Spanish was fun but also very difficult. I practiced my Spanish on my various ministries, while talking with the parishioners around the parish, after the masses and while doing chores at the parish. But I found it challenging when I had to give reflections and offer prayers in Spanish at the various meetings and faith-sharing events. As the activities increased, it was difficult to keep up my enthusiasm. I soon found it difficult joining in all the activities and participating with all the different groups. I found that I lacked patience with all the cultural differences. It was difficult to always be ready to offer that extra help to those in need. And it was hard to offer sympathy and consolation to them without acknowledging my own needs or complaining.
I was challenged and quite surprised when parishioners came to me with their concerns about faith. It helped me to realize that I need to be more careful about how I answer them. I realized that I needed to deepen my theological studies with ministerial practice. I experienced genuine poverty in the parish. I have seen many homeless people on the street and around the Cathedral. It was hard for me to communicate with them or to offer any support because they didn’t listen, or they simply ignored me. Now I am halfway through my CTP experience and I already realize that the most beneficial part of my internship has been the guidance and direction given by my pastor and mentor, Fr Duong. His insightful assistance and advice during the anointing of the sick, or when we accompany those in mourning at funeral masses and cemeteries is inspirational. His instructions on how to perform the various rites, his insistence that I be on time for the celebrations and to do the needed preparations, be ever ready to fill in when others are not able are preparing me for my future as a priest.
All of these crucial challenges and blessed burdens are preparing me for ministry. They have helped to give me confidence and have deepened the faith that I will need as an SVD priest, and they have helped me to see myself doing all that is needed to be as an ideal SVD priest in the future. For this great gift I am thankful to God, the SVD and especially to Fr Duong, my mentor and guide in what it is to be a good SVD.
– Thong Dinh Tran, SVD