I have experienced S.V.D Family Feast celebrations at Techny and the Theologate communities. But the celebration of Family Feast at Riverside on Wednesday, January 11, was very special for me. What I really enjoyed about it was the fact that this meeting gave me a chance to meet so many S.V.D priests from so many of our different SVD parishes located all around California.
I enjoyed meeting these confreres and having a chance to talk with them about the countries they come from and the work they do in their present and former ministries. I couldn’t help comparing this with what is happening in the parish were I’m assigned for my CTP program—Holy Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino. It was quite touching to listen to them and to share our S.V.D. family spirit. I felt like I was a true missionary to the world following Jesus’ example, and like I really belonged to an S.V.D. community.
This beautiful spirit of confraternity could be seen in the way their faces lit up as they greeted each other. The liturgy of the Mass was an integral part of the overall celebration. It was inspiring to see some gifted confreres playing the guitar, while others were singing, doing the readings, offering the intentions, and the special prayers of thanksgiving. At the end of Mass, it was moving to see the way we all crouched or stood side by side in front of the altar to have our photos taken. All of this made it a great celebratory event that I will always cherish.
I was also impressed that our USW confreres come from all around the world, and that they have to spend so much time preparing for their ministry, even after the long years in the seminary and OTP/CTP. Here in California, everyone has to speak good Spanish and English and understand these cultures well. Adapting is not easy; it takes many years of hard work listening, observing, and asking questions. In the seminary, I just concentrate on my studies and don’t have much opportunity to think about all the other things we need to know.
I especially enjoyed the time after dinner when we shared our gifts. Then you could see and hear people expressing their true selves and real desires. Here all are equal. You could “steal” the gift that the Rector or Provincial had chosen as easily as anyone else’s prize. And those who got $100 dollar bills in their box received no mercy. And yet nobody got upset or considered himself to be higher than the others. Everyone’s choice was respected with bursts of booming laughter, solidarity, and understanding. During this sharing of gifts we were not celebrating alone. You could see that all of us were brothers in one family. The moment that we each received, opened, and showed the gifts that we got, was a moment of surprise, and I could feel the caring and brotherly love that we have for one another. Yes, we just wanted to laugh and have fun together.
When I compare our Riverside Family Feast with those of Techny and the Theologate, everything—the liturgy, the socializing, and games—is quite different. I was a Novice at the Techny celebrations, so I felt like I was under a microscope and had to be careful about the impression I might make. But Techny had a marvelous liturgy, and there was great interaction in the community during the entertainment and games. Someone from the Theologate gave a presentation about the history of our Founder and the Anoldus family which was interesting and kept us in rapt attention.
Celebrations at the Theologate are quite different. They are carefully planned, very well organized and involve both the individual and the whole community. We already know everyone—classmates, professors, and schoolmates—so it is easy for us to get together to practice. I realize that it is much harder for the retired and working guys at Riverside to put together the kind of polished celebrations that we normally have at the Theologate. They simply don’t have the time to prepare or practice.
I confess that I was unfamiliar with the music at the Riverside Mass and therefore found it difficult to sing along with the community. But what I found special about the celebration was that it gave me a chance to meet the other members of the Province—at least those working in the South—and it was inspiring to see how everyone chipped in on the spot, at the last minute so to speak, to help make it a great success. At a moment’s notice different people volunteered to help with activities like cooking, serving, and cleaning.
I would have to say that besides getting to know new people from many different lands and cultures, and hearing about their experiences in ministry, possibly even because of its rag-tag, spur of the moment feel, I found the celebration at Riverside more interesting and exciting than those that I’ve experienced at Techny or the Theologate. It was a great privilege to be there, and I will remember it always.
Thong Dinh Tran, SVD