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Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Reported by DaliusLL
Photos by Romeo Francis

Sandakan: 30 members of the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) St. Teresa of Calcutta, Taman Indah Jaya Sandakan, embarked on a 5-day spiritual pilgrimage to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on 11th – 16th September 2018 with Sr. Appollonia Gumpu, FSIC as the Spiritual Advisor. Prior to their departure to Vietnam, members prepared themselves spiritually through a three-day novena prayer. 
Visiting the HIV Shelter Home
The BEC of St. Teresa of Calcutta, Sandakan was formed in 2010 with some 30 active families. Since its inception, the members have made two local pilgrimages (Diocese of Keningau and St Anne, Bukit Mertajam, Penang) and overseas pilgrimage to Manila, the Philippines. This year, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was selected as their destination through the assistance from the Vietnam IFFAsia alumni (Institute of Formation Fondacio). IFFAsia is based in the Philippines; an international Catholic Institution committed in training Christian youth leaders from across Asia on pastoral work. 
Social visit at the King Palace in Ho Chi Min
Visiting the Reunification Palace
Over the course of the 5 days, we visited seven Catholic pilgrimage sites; Churches, Saigon Archbishop’s Residence and Pastoral Centres with significant historical and architectural values. We visited the famous iconic statue of Christ the King, standing on Mount Nho in Vũng Tàu, Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province, Đông Nam Bộ, about two and a half hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnam Catholic Association built the statue in 1974 and it was completed in 1993; stands on 170 meter above sea level. The statue itself is 32-meter high, and has 18.4-meter arms. As for the Catholic Churches, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, Parish Church of Son Loc, Parish of Thanh Le (Fatima Binh Trieu), Parish Church of Hanh Tong Tay, the Archbishop’s Residence where the oldest chapel with its unique traditional architecture is located, and the Saigon Pastoral and Seminary Centre. 
Visiting the Church at Xa Tan Phu Trung
We were particularly impressed by the Catholic in Vietnam for their effort in faith upbringing of their young. In one particular visit, we attended mass specifically catered for the children. It was heart-warming, cute and pleasant to see them participating in the mass especially when they recite their prayers aloud and in unison. Their teachers were all from the Eucharistic Youth Movement and each time the children attended mass or activity, they will be awarded with a point in the form of coupons. The coupons collected will be redeemed with tokens as a kind of incentive and appreciation for their participation. 
Inside the Church
Visiting the Church at Hiep Binh Chanh
In another parish, we witnessed how the International Young Catholic Students organised children faith formation by not only with catechesis but with activities. During the encounter with the youth, we had the opportunity to participate in their program with a ‘Bungkau’ performance and our Sabah popular dance, Sumazau where the youth and kids joined us on the floor. In our response to their warm receptions and hospitalities, souvenirs were given by our BEC Chairman John Tan as a sign of appreciation. 
Inside the Chapel
The faith and religious practice among the Vietnamese believers is very much alive. This could be seen from the attendance of the faithful during the morning mass in Notre Dame Cathedral. We were impressed by the great devotion of the local Catholics when we joined in their sunset mass in Fatima Binh Trieu Church. It is a huge 2-storey building which can easily accommodate 3000 parishioners and it was fully packed. Though we were not able to communicate with one another in words, we felt we were very much connected as our common faith bound us like one family as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Ben Nghe Basilica in Vietnam ( Picture taken with Priest)
The BEC group had the opportunity to visit the orphanage in Mai Tam House of Hope in Saigon, a HIV/AIDS Pastoral Care Center, the only facility of its kind in Ho Chi Minh City, run by a Catholic Priest and volunteers. The visit was impromptu, not planned as we had more time to spare before attending Mass. Fr. John Toai, the founder, briefed us on the pastoral work of the center, which at present housed 80 HIV infected children. The feeling was overwhelming when we saw how intimate the children were with Fr John Toai. They surrounded, hugged and tugged around Fr. John Toai for fatherly attention. The centre is struggling to make ends meet for their daily medication. 
(Picture taken outside the Church)
Youth encounter
Mai Tam House of Hope is a non-governmental organisation that receives no funding from the government. However, since its founding in 2005, the center has received international recognition for its work of love and compassion. Despite getting grants and donation from overseas, the center remains underfunded and without self-sustaining income. Seeing their struggle reminds us the very word Jesus said, “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matt 25:40. Before departing from the center, our BEC Indah Jaya advisor Francis Tan initiated a donation drive among the members to chip in towards the center’s coffer. 
Meeting the priest
Apart from the spiritual pilgrimage, we also took the opportunity to understand the Vietnamese way of life, their culture and their history by visiting places like the Mekong Delta, War Remnant Museum and the Presidential Palace. For many of us, we knew little about Vietnam, we used to know Vietnam as a war-trodden country but after setting our foot here, we realised that Vietnam is a fast developing country. Coming to Vietnam, we saw it as a place where the Christian faith is flourishing, as can be seen in their effort in nurturing a strong faith among the young. 
Sumazau Dance with the poor children as well as the orphans
Love offering for the Catholic Youth
Though we stayed for only 5 days, many of us admitted that we have come to see Vietnam as a place where God’s love reaches out to many and the people responded with faith and zeal. We had indeed plenty to learn from the priests, and the youth Ministries we encountered during this pilgrimage. Indeed, this pilgrimage is an eye opener, not only allowing us to see God’s work in this country but also to experience and witness the presence of God among us and journey as an authentic Christian community. 

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