This year marks the 400th anniversary of Jesuit missionaries arriving in Vietnam and bringing Christianity with them. To start off the year, Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, celebrated a Mass with over 1,500 people in the congregation and over 100 priests concelebrating.
In addition to Christianity growing in the country during the last 400 years, the Jesuit presence there has grown as well. The Vietnam Province is one of the largest Jesuit provinces in the Asian Pacific Jesuit Conference, with 197 Jesuits and an astonishing 200 serious Jesuit candidates.
In the tradition of Jesuits coming to the country, Fr. Peter Schineller, SJ, traveled to Vietnam from February 8 through March 3 to teach theology. This was his second time visiting to teach – he first came to Vietnam in 2011 after Fr. Ai Pham, SJ, dean of the faculty of theology at St. Joseph Scholasticate requested help. In 2014 Fr. Schineller returned to Vietnam at the request of Fr. Pham. “His request and my own desires coincided so I went back,” said Fr. Schineller. “My main job in past has been teaching theology, at Chicago, at Boston and in Nigeria. Teaching is deeply in me and I can teach a variety of subjects.”
The Vietnamese students that he taught were all in their late twenties and part of a religious order. Out of the group of 19, 13 were Jesuits in formation, three were Carmelites and three were Passionists. Fr. Schineller was tasked with teaching them about the liturgy. Topics included: what the Mass is, the history of the Mass and how to celebrate the Mass.
While there was a bit of language barrier, Fr. Schineller’s prior time in Nigeria proved to be helpful. “Several of the students thanked me for my slow and clear diction,” he recalled.
To encourage other non-native Jesuits to visit, Fr. Schineller has assembled a guide with facts that travelers should keep in mind. One such point is to, “Bring sandals, because you take off shoes, sandals and usually socks whenever you enter the chapel.” Motorbikes, Fr. Schineller notes, are the most common form of transportation and can constantly be seen driving around.
“Will I go again?” he asks. “If I am requested and there is a need I can fulfill, then I would like to go back. It’s a very positive experience just to see a young church and young seminarians.”