[No Title]

No name.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare penned these great words which is now renowned all over the world and which stated that inner beauty cannot be taken away by any labels or titles.

Lourdes, France.  That’s where I have been for the past few days.  The first impression of this place was that it was a small rural town and peaceful.  It reminded me of where I was born, Vietnam.  The vibe of the rustic, tranquil, and a hint of city life made me think back to the open stalls, the narrow roads, the sandwich baguettes for breakfast, and the hustle and bustle of cars and pedestrians.  As we made our way into the grotto I felt a sense of stillness, with a few exceptions of the high energy Italians.

What struck me the most is when on Saturday we decided to go to the baths.  The thought of getting into the same waters as everyone else scared me.  And when my turn was up I walked through the curtains and quickly, I was humbled.  I went into the same large room with someone who had no feet and was paralyzed from the waist down.  I was nervous.  I hurriedly unchanged, sat quietly down wrapped in only a large cape, and waited for my turn watching at least 6 nurses maneuvering the disabled lady.  I was panicking, “Do I really want to do this?”  What seemed like eternity passed and it was my turn to go in.  The nurse who was helping me embraced me and said, “Pray to Our Lady and she will help you know what to do.”  The first step I took into the water had a piercing coldness I had never experienced before (and Scotland weather could not compare).  Each step I took I could feel the intense shivers run through my body and the most I could muster was sitting down for a split second — I was freezing.  As I walked out of those waters I was in shock and shivering.  I changed back into my clothes and walked out of the baths disappointed that I didn’t do the whole body immersion.

After my experience, I sat thinking about what had just happened as my body adjusted back to normal temperatures.  And my only thought was this,  “How amazing to see the commitment, day in and day out, for these nurses to provide such a memory to all those coming to Lourdes to experience the grotto waters.”  What I saw in the room with the lady lying on the stretcher was genuine, real love.  With sure hands and precise instructions to follow, they still showed all the care in the world to the lady lying there. You could feel the love and appreciation.  Each person mattered.  Every person mattered. Whether you are old or young, rich or poor, disabled or not, you mattered.  The title you had: doctor, lawyer, bishop, priest, sister, etc. the most important one is this:

Child of God.

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This is the End

My mission in Glasgow, Scotland has officially ended 22 June 2016, however, it doesn’t seem quite real.  As I reflect on my almost one year of voluntary work here giving retreats, workshops, and assemblies — being present to the young people, I feel as though I will be leaving my heart behind.  We ended our year with one last retreat at St. Maurice’s.  We prayed, we laugh, and we had fun speaking about Our Lady and the needs of our world.  As I said before, what speaks to me the most is the passion the young people have when they think about the needs of the world and how much they want our world to be a little more perfect.

We wrapped up our year with a celebration for the school staff and their family, in which we have given retreats to.  We talked, we played, we colored, and we were present.

“Mission” has ended, but I will stay on to attend World Youth Day 2016 in Poland and VIDES camp in Oxford.  As the days are ticking down I am a bit disheartened that time has passed by this quickly.  It only seemed like yesterday when it was 2 September 2015 that I arrived in Glasgow airport to meet the sisters and start my voluntary work in Scotland with the URSpace team.

Let’s make the most of the last few months!

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Heart to Heart

Monday, 20 June 2016.

This week has been a whirlwind of adventures.  Early start:  7 o’clock prayer, half 7 leave for school.  The last few days of retreat were lovely and I cannot believe it is already the end of June.

The more I think about it the more I realized just how much our young people thirst for someone to challenge them and give them the opportunity to share their deepest self. And mandalas are a tool for such reflection through the use of colors and shapes.  And we have used them throughout this year to engage the young people with their inner child.  Here are some completed mandalas our young people created.

Give the young people a chance to reflect, to think, to ponder, to quiet themselves and you would be surprise at their ability to listen to God’s presence.  Leading the session for the mandala is such a challenge because one never knows whether they are receptive to the idea of being quiet for 30 minutes.  Again, the young people humbled me — you can hear a pin drop in that room and the impact it left, immeasurable.

Need I say more?

Crucifix = Love

7 June 2016.  Elmthorpe, Cowley.

Calvary is the epitome of love, a place where lovers met.

This was by far the hardest week on all of us.  We, as the Salesian province in the UK, have suffered a major lost when our dear Sr. Georgina was laid to rest this Tuesday.  I must admit, I only had a brief encounter with Sr. Georgina, but that brief encounter left an indelible mark on my memory.  Though I am not a part of the Salesian community here in the UK, I can tell you this much, because of 10 minutes I can never forget her.  Two months prior, in April, when I came to visit Oxford for the Easter holidays, I had the chance to stay with the sisters in Cowley.  Before I made the trip down to Oxford, all the sisters in Newlands had told me, you have to meet Sr. Georgina.  And so, I did.  She just had those sparkling eyes and knowing look.  And the curious me, blurted out, “Do you know something I don’t know?”

These were her last words to me,

“You are special.  You will become someone great.”

Granted, she probably said this loads of times to other young people.  She is, was, the provincial to the UK province once upon a time and for quite a few years was the delegate for young people within the Salesian family.  However, her words spoke to me.  And when we laid Sr. Georgina to rest I could feel the loss of someone great.

Like our founder, Mary Mazarello, who died on 14 May, our dear sister breathed her last breath on that same date.  Indeed, she was a great woman.

Glasgow Express

31 May 2016.

This week has been filled with many community outings.  We were blessed with great work, with great sunshine, with great company, and with great fun!  As any Scottish local would insist, on a sunny day like today why waste your time inside the office?

One Call Away

I’m only one call away

I’ll be there to save the day

Superman got nothing on me

I’m only one call away

And when you’re weak I’ll be strong…

This has got to be one of my favorite songs since I heard it.  Charlie Puth has nailed it with these words.  It reminds me of home, especially my parents.  And most every Sunday I would call home and catch up on all the latest updates on family, friends, and parish events.  Across the Pacific, I’m only one call away.

22 May 2016. The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  My parent’s anniversary.

I cannot believe that my parents have been married for 27 years.  As I think about the lasting marriage of my parents I think of all the things that married life encompasses.

So this is a shout-out to my parents.  Thank you for saying yes.  For saying yes to the diaper changing, the tantrum throwing, the endless tidying, and the countless many other things you do for my brother and me.  And I leave you with the words of Marion E. Kinneman and her “Beatitudes for Parents”:

Blessed are those parents who make their peace with spilled milk and with mud, for of such is the kingdom of childhood.

Blessed is the parent who engages not in the comparison of his child with others, for precious unto each is the rhythm of his own growth.

Blessed are the fathers and mothers who have learned laughter, for it is the music of the child’s world.

Blessed and wise are those parents who understand the goodness of time, for they make it not a sword that kills growth but a shield to protect.

Blessed and mature are they who without anger can say “no”, for comforting to the child is the security of firm decisions.

Blessed is the gift of consistency, for it is heart’s-ease in childhood.

Blessed are they who accept the awkwardness of growth, for they are aware of the choice between marred furnishings and damaged personalities.

Blessed are the teachable, for knowledge brings understanding, and understanding brings love.

Blessed are the men and women who in the midst of the unpromising mundane, give love, for they bestow the greatest of all gifts to each other, to their children, and – in an ever-widening circle –to their fellow men.

I hope that one day I can say yes like you did.  To say yes to love. Because to all the moms and dads who are back home and are diligently praying for their children on mission — you are awesome!

No Regrets.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

On looking back at my own life I realized how blessed I am.  Yet at the same time I have those moments I wish I could erase or do over.  Those regrets that a few of you might understand and relate to: not taking the time to visit friends and family, not making those memories, not helping others when I could, doing what I think is important, and so on.

How glad I am to say I do not regret a moment for saying yes to volunteering and taking this last year to do a gap year.  How glad I am to decide to quit work and dedicate a year of my life to service.

I think one of the most beautiful things about volunteering as a missionary abroad is that I can immerse myself in a culture not my own, see the realities beyond my rose tinted glasses, and enjoy in banter I cannot quite understand.  And most importantly, make those lasting memories.  One of the greatest things about the UR Space Project is that it is a full body jump into the unknown in a country I have never been to.

May just flew by!  And as we are ending term shortly I have experienced so much joy seeing the young people light up when they speak about their dreams, their gifts, and their quirkiness.  An even sharing those things that they struggle with and to be open about what they find challenging.  I think what surprises me a great deal is their want to be reflective, to quiet themselves, and to be creative.

So, the next time you moan, think twice, because somewhere around the world, there is someone who is struggling ten times more than you.  Instead of complaining, let’s challenge ourselves to turn the sourness into sweetness.  Let’s cool off with some lemonade during these summer months in the sun!

Pray. Protest. Provide.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Can you believe that we spent Mother’s Day with the Cardinal Charles Bo from Myanmar/Burma at St. Andrew’s Cathedral?  He was an advocate for human rights and peace in a country where militant forces ruled for a long time.  This cardinal left us with much to reflect on,

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.” – Gandhi

Buona notte!

Mama Mary

“Mary, my dearest Mother, give me your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility, that I may receive Jesus as you did, and go in haste to give Him to others.”  – Mother Teresa

May is the month our church remembers a special lady in our lives.  And because of this we have been giving Marian themed retreats to our young people here in Scotland.  As we reflect on how our Mother Mary said little and kept her son and all of us in her prayers, and “pondered all [these] things in her heart” I will leave you with a few God moments this week.

Four Seasons

Wet. Dry. Wind. Snow.

You can expect to be surprised everyday by the weather.  If you are ever bored, just fly to Scotland and you will enjoy the four seasons in one day!  This will keep you happy, smiling, and crying all in one day.

29 April 2016.  It snowed today.  Everyone keeps telling me there will be no more snow days until next winter.  So I prayed to Our Lady of the Snows.  And there was a blizzard that came our way – it was the weekend of the Provincial Assembly.  Before the Salesian weekend began, we had gone to 4 schools in those two weeks.  It was chaotic.  It was hectic.  It was active.  In this Year of Mercy we as a Salesian family, schools in the UK, and countries around the world need to embrace the invitation to be merciful.  As we journey as a province we were being transformed by the encounter with God leading us so that we can walk with the young people.  So I will leave you with images into my one wild and untamed life that weekend…