It has been such a blessing for me to have the opportunity to learn and experience parish life in St Agnes’ church over the last six months. Since I came to Ireland 2011, this is the first time that I have become involved in parish work itself. I did work before in parishes, but it was mainly work with children or young people because such is our Salesian charism. For that reason, at the beginning of this pastoral year, I was considered ministries in which I should get involved in the parish. Though I love working with young people, I was encouraged to get involved in different ministries in the parish as the course required.
After a few weeks in the parish, I realised that it was very good to work with different groups because it helped me to know more about the life of the parish as a whole. For instance, I got involved in liturgical celebrations, the Family Mass group, the baptismal team, the Eucharistic Ministry, the local BRÚ youth club, and St Damian’s National School. I had, therefore, the opportunity to meet many people, from a little baby who is a few months old to a young man who is a mere ninety-eight years old!
The parishioners are very friendly and warm. I felt very welcome from the very first moment onwards. After the Sunday Mass, the priests and I would often go to the front door of the church to greet people as they are leaving. They often said that it was great to have me there with them in the parish. Sometimes also, people would simply stop and have a chat or ask me for prayer.
There are some experiences in this parish ministry which I remember well. First and foremost, I want to comment about my experience of working with the parish’s baptismal team. I had never previously been involved in any baptism team in Ireland or in Viet Nam. So, everything was new for me. In this ministry, I have had the opportunity to meet many young families and people who attended at Baptism. For me, Baptism is a wonderful sacrament and occasion which reminds us to reflect on our own baptism. Through baptism, we are born into a faith community and we are called to love God and to love one another.
Next, I would like to share my thoughts about the Family Mass group which comprises some adults, children and teenagers. The purpose of the group is to prepare children and teenagers for Sunday Mass through art and music. It is also a great way for children to prepare for their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Children are encouraged to take part in the 11 o’clock Sunday Mass. Their contributions are very much appreciated in the parish. Some of them joined this group some years ago, and I could see how mature they were in terms of helping younger members and taking on responsibilities in the group. I believe those children will become the key members of the parish in bringing people together in the future.
This year, I was involved in teaching Religious Education to the fourth-class students in at the local national primary school. At the beginning, I thought they might not be interested in religion or faith. In fact, I was surprised by their honesty, openness and curiosity about faith. They asked me many questions every single time I was in class. Gradually, I discovered a reason why they had asked me so many questions in relation to faith was because they were not taught much religion in school. While the children may know some subjects very well but, about the religion, they know very little. I hope that I shall have the opportunity to teach religion in a primary school as it prepares them for the First Holy Communion and Confirmation. I was seen as their teacher and friend for in terms of teaching in class. I often played friendly games of soccer with them during the breaks. For me, that has been a unique way of being a Salesian.
The final experience which I would like to share is about visiting people in the parish. Almost every Friday morning, Sister Mary and I went to the 10 o’clock Mass, then had a cup of tea and chat with the people in the parish centre for a while before heading off to visit someone in the parish. Sometimes, we visited people and gave them Holy Communion. Other times, we just visited them and had a chat. For me, that is a wonderful ministry that we have in the parish all through this ministry, I came to know more about the parishioners and their lives. They were very happy to see us because many of them would stay in the house most of the time owing to their physical health or age. Sister Mary and I are among many other Eucharistic Ministers who also visit the people and give them Holy Communion from time to time.
Once again, I must say that I had a truly wonderful experience of working in St Agnes’ parish in Crumlin. I believe that what I have learned and experienced this year will help me a lot in my future ministries as a Salesian of Don Bosco and Mary Help of Christians.