Populus Dei Magazine Interview

Melbourne’s Federation Square on the night of Friday, 10 October 2008 became even more crowded than usual when more than 2,000 Vietnamese Catholics showed up to express solidarity with the Archdiocese of Hanoi and the Vietnamese Catholic Church, which is facing persecution at the hand of the Vietnamese government. Besides Bishop Hilton Deakin, Auxiliary Bishop for the Eastern Region of Melbourne, Mr. Luke Donnellan, representative of the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Hong Lim MP of the Lower House, member for Clayton, we noticed the presence of many other non-Vietnamese people at the Candlelight Vigil organized by the Magazine Populus Dei. One of these supporters is Bro. Jay Too, a member of the Divine Word Missionaries, who attended the Vigil from the beginning until the end. We now invite you to join us for a special interview with Bro Jay, SVD.

Bro Jay Too, SVD
Populus Dei: Hello, we notice that you are not Vietnamese, but thank you for being here with us throughout the Candlelight Vigil, please introduce yourself to the reader.

Br. Jay, SVD: Yes, I am a friend of Vietnamese people. Tonight, in a solemn and prayerful atmosphere I see everybody as my brothers and my sisters in Christ. When I received a burning candle from an old man in front of me, I felt the Holy Spirit coming to me. And when I turned to a young girl who sat beside me, I felt the burning flame of the same Spirit passing on to her, and from her to other people around, creating a river of light which enlightened the whole place. We all were enlightened by and inspired by the same Spirit. It’s a wonderful experience tonight.

I am an SVD brother coming from Indonesia. I have lived here in Australia for over ten years now. I first studied here in Melbourne before going to Thailand and West Africa to work with refugees and internally displaced persons. I just returned from my mission work in Liberia, West Africa. Presently I live and work in Sydney. This weekend I am in town because I am invited by SVD Box Hill to give a recollection on eco-spirituality.

Populus Dei: What do you know about the conflict that happened recently between the Vietnamese Catholics and the Vietnamese Communist government in Hanoi?

Br. Jay, SVD: It has been on the news for a couple of weeks. Some of my friends also forwarded emails to me about what was happening in Hanoi. Our brothers and sisters in Hanoi and in Vietnam in general have been going through a very difficult time. I cannot imagine that in this century, a state using her power to violate and to destroy people’s sacred place. To destroy a church or a church compound is to destroy people’s sacred place. It is a violation of the very basic human rights. People need a sacred place where they can pray, can nurture their spirituality and feel closer to their God, a source of strength and hope in their lives. If you destroy their place of worship, you want destroy their religion, their belief and their spirituality.

One of the biggest crisis we are facing in this century is that people have lost the sense of sacredness. People have disregarded the place of worship.

I keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Vietnam to remain strong in this very difficult time. We shall overcome one day. You are not alone. There are millions of people praying for you. The history of Christianity is full of struggle, being persecuted from time to time. But the amazing thing is that we become stronger and stronger in times of persecution. We cannot be defeated by any secular groups or institutions or states.

Populus Dei: How did you know about the Candlelight Vigil tonight?

Br. Jay, SVD: Oh, just by chance. This afternoon when I arrived from Sydney, Father Michael Quang Nguyen, SVD picked me up from the airport. He told me about the vigil and I told him that I would come. I wanted to express my support to Vietnamese Catholics here in Melbourne who also feel the same pain as their brothers and sisters in Hanoi. I believe in the power of prayers. When we are all united in prayers, like what we are doing tonight, I believe that God is here with us and He will answer our prayers.

Populus Dei: What are your thoughts or feelings about the Candlelight Vigil? Now the Vigil is over, what is your biggest impression about the Vigil?

Br. Jay, SVD: Very well organized. The talks were inspiring. The light of the candles, the procession of the Word of God and Mother Mary were the highlights. Those symbols are very powerful. I really feel that God and mother Mary are with us here tonight. And I believe that God and Mother Mary are with our sisters and brothers in Hanoi.

Populus Dei: If people ask you to describe the Candlelight Vigil in one single sentence, what would you tell them?

Br. Jay, SVD: The atmosphere of the vigil transforms us and it makes us united in common purpose and hope.

Populus Dei: You said you worked for the refugees in Liberia, you know many of the Vietnamese in Australia who came to this land also went through refugee camps in Thailand, Malaysia, and your country Indonesia too. Please share with us the work that you did for the refugees in Liberia.

Br. Jay, SVD: I ran education programs in refugee camps. I realize that education is very important for people in the refugee camps, particularly for children. A refugee camp is usually a very poor place to live with thousands of people trying to survive. Nobody would like to live in a refugee camp or becoming a refugee. It is not a normal place to live. Through education programs, I tried to transform the camp into a kind of normal place to live. I tried to make sure that the camp became a place for children to learn, to get education and a place for adults to learn some basic skills such as tailoring, carpentry, masonry, agriculture, adult literacy, etc. I tried to make sure that while they were in the camps they could learn something useful for their future lives. The kids need to go through a normal schooling. The adults can learn some skills so when they return to their villages they can use that skills to rebuild their new lives.

I also ran a program to help traumatized people, particularly youth. Liberia suffered a long-bitter civil war. Nearly 90 percents of infrastructures were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people became displaced. There were thousands killed or injured. People were traumatized. Every day I faced with this traumatized people, particularly the young people. Through education, we tried to help them in dealing with their situation.

The most important thing for me was my presence amongst them. I was there to be with them or to accompany them. It is our call to be with and to journey with them in their difficult time. I hope that with my presence they felt that they were not alone. There were people who cared about them. They have become my friends and they have received me as their friend. When I finished my contract to work in the camp last year, I found it difficult to say good bye to them. I miss them dearly. I keep praying for them for a better life and a better future.

Populus Dei: You said you came from Sydney to Melbourne to give a Recollection Weekend on Eco-Spirituality to the SVDs in Dorish Maru College, Box Hill. We know Buddhist spirituality, or St. Ignatius spirituality, or for sure Christian spirituality, but not Eco-Spirituality, please share with us what is the so called Eco-Spirituality?

Br. Jay, SVD: Eco-spirituality or the spirituality of ecology is basically how we see our planet or our ecology through our Christian perspective. It is about how we relate to our ecology. We, Christians, do not see our planet merely as an object to be exploited in order to satisfy our needs and our wants. We tend to see our planet and its richness as an integral part of God’s creation. Our planet is a living thing and our lives depend on this planet. If we do not take care of our planet and our ecology then we are not going to survive.

When we talk about eco-spirituality we talk about the sacredness of our nature and the connectedness with our nature. We need to learn how to experience the sacred in God’s creation. We also need to discover the beauty and mystery in creation.

Populus Dei: Thanks Bro. Jay for being here tonight with the Vietnamese Catholics. We appreciate your presence with us. Before we end the interview, do you have something else that you would like to share with the reader?

Br. Jay, SVD: I am grateful to God for being able to be with my Vietnamese brothers and sisters during the Candlelight vigil. I felt a strong presence of God throughout the vigil. I pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen the faith of our sisters and brothers in Hanoi and they will remain strong in this difficult time. I also pray for the change of hearts and minds of the Communist government in Vietnam, so they will honour the church’s rights to its properties and people’s rights to express their faith and spirituality. Thank you.

Populus Dei: Bro. Jay, thanks again. Your presence among the Vietnamese Catholics tonight shows tremendous support. We wish you many blessings and successes with your office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the SVD. God bless.