The SVD AUS Province recently celebrated as two of its students took their final vows as Divine Word Missionaries and were ordained to the Diaconate.
The two events were significant milestones on the missionary journey of Toub Anisong Chanthavong, the first person from Laos to become an SVD, and Simon Dominguez Prospero from Mexico.
Provincial, Fr Henry Adler SVD, presided at the Perpetual Vows ceremony during Mass at St Paschal’s Chapel, Box Hill on Saturday, March 9, during which he thanked the two young men for making this commitment in their lives.
“We feel blessed to be in this chapel today as our two friends and brothers, Simon and Anisong publicly profess their Perpetual Vows within the Society of the Divine Word,” Fr Henry said in his homily.
“We feel particularly blessed because celebrations of religious profession are rare events in the world we live in today.
“Rarer and rarer is becoming the case where a young person whose life is full of every opportunity for marriage, sexual intimacy, career, and worldly wealth and success, pledges to live a lifetime of poverty, chastity and obedience. This is not an easy time to make religious vows.”
Fr Henry reflected on the two readings chosen by Toub and Simon for their final vows celebration: “I have called you by name, you are mine…” “do not fear…” “you are precious and honoured in my sight and I love you!” (Isaiah 43) and also “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink, stranger, and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, in prison and you visited me”. (Matthew 25).
“It’s so liberating not to be afraid and so intimate to be called by name,” Fr Henry said.
“Fear is part of our everyday life in this unfriendly world. We fear so many things and it limits us, cripples us; takes away the wholeness that we need in order to live our God-given life to the full.
“This liberation, especially from fear, is necessary so that we can re-claim our wholeness as persons and engage in an intimate relationship with God who calls us into service. Our challenge is to discover that wholeness and respond to this call.”
Asked to provide a reflection ahead of taking Perpetual Vows, Toub named his personal experience of being loved by God as the essence of his call to Mission.
“At times I ask myself: why did I choose to be a religious in the Society of the Divine Word? The only answer that makes sense is that it wasn’t me choosing God in religious life, it was God choosing me in his unconditional love for me,” he wrote.
“God is calling me by my name to a relationship of love and to give witness to this Good News and I’m ready and excited to respond to this Love by making my vows of chastity, poverty and obedience and commit myself to Mission for life.”
For Simon, Matthew’s vision of ‘the end times’ embodied his personal call to Mission.
“This passage from Matthew 25 says a lot about me and my commitment to this way of life. It challenges me to be very concrete and practical in my response to his Love by loving others in my ministry as a Divine Word Missionary,” he wrote.
“It challenges me to do more than just talk about love, but to love; or pray for the poor, but pray with the poor. It calls me to a very concrete solidarity with those in need: to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger or migrant or visit the sick.
“Nothing can bring me closer to Jesus than recognising his face in the faces of the poor around me. This call to service, solidarity, advocacy or promotion of justice, peace and equality has never felt stronger in me than it does now.”
The following day, March 10, Toub and Simon were ordained to the Diaconate by Bishop Mark Edwards OMI, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne.
Toub said it was an important milestone, as the Diaconate is for him, the gateway to priesthood.
“I reflect that my calling is truly God’s initiative and I respond to this call not on my own, but by the grace of God,” he said. “I thank God who is always faithful to me and nurtures my vocation.”
Simon said that in his ordination as a deacon he came to realise “that this is a task which carries a lot of responsibility”.
“Now is the time to truly serve God’s people, to be with them, and to actualise the ministry of presence by walking with them,” he said.
Both young men thanked God and all those who had walked side by side with them towards their goal, including their family and friends, SVD confreres, the lecturers and staff of Yarra Theological Union, and the communities they have served and been part of during their formation.
The two young missionaries will now serve their Diaconate in local parishes.
PHOTOS: Fr Thien Nguyen SVD
TOP RIGHT: Provincial Fr Henry Adler SVD blesses Toub (left) and Simon (right) during their Perpetual Vows ceremony.
MIDDLE LEFT: Toub and Simon sign their vows.
MIDDLE RIGHT: Toub and Simon kneel before Bishop Mark Edwards OMI during their Ordination to the Diaconate.
BOTTOM LEFT: Simon (left) and Toub (right), cut their cakes at the celebration following their Ordination to the Diaconate.