A Program Of Continuing Formation For Those Responsible For The Formation Of The Young Religious (Formation For The Formators)

A Program Of Continuing Formation For Those Responsible For The Formation Of The Young Religious

(Formation For The Formators)

PART I: BACKGROUND OF THE PROGRAM

 I. Starting Points

The Center for Ignatian Spirituality (CIS), launched in 2019, is a ministry of the Vietnam Province of the Society of Jesus.  As a Jesuit ministry, our goal is the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice which are an integral part of faith (General Congregation 32).  CIS lives this goal in various ways such as short and long-term courses in Human Development and Christian spirituality; which are the live and online sessions addressing the problems of Vietnamese life within a rapidly changing environment affecting faith, morality, and family and religious life.  The CIS Program in Spiritual Accompaniment began in 2020; we have adjusted and started the second class in 2021 depending on the Covid-19.

At the request of many religious superiors and not a few diocesan bishops, CIS is launching a new program in 2022:  A Program of Continuing Formation for Those Responsible for the Formation of the Young Religious (its short form is called The Program of Formation for Formators). The program is an important service to the Vietnamese Catholic Church in order to “train the trainers.”  These formators are critically important in the development of religious and priests who will meet the pastoral needs of the People of God.

”Go,  therefore, and makes disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:19) 

 II. Continuing Formation for Formators

Any discussion of a continuing formation program for professional formations from dioceses or religious congregations needs to be rooted in the necessity for Christian conversion.  Conversion of mind and heart is a personal and communal Christian process.  Although conversion takes place in the inner life of each Christian, it is not simply a private affair.  Formators are assigned to do great tasks in helping the full human development – body, mind, and soul – of the young adults. Thus, formators themselves deserve enough of their necessary time and resources to strengthen their professional ability to accompany, encourage and inspire the young religious who prepare to serve the People of God.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(1 Thess 5:23)

Continuing formation programs are a universal need, actually an essential requirement within the Catholic Church.  Continuing formation programs were mandated for religious congregations and dioceses by the council fathers attending the Second Vatican Council.  The need for these programs is stated clearly in two documents of the Second Vatican Council: The Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis) and On Priestly Training (Optatam Totius). Ongoing formation programs are important, not only for the smoothly running of formation programs in dioceses or religious congregations.  They are important for the well-being and pastoral care of the People of God.  These programs are a service to those entrusted with the awesome task of guidance for new entries into a congregation or diocese.  To accomplish these goals, an ongoing formation program must take seriously the internal (spiritual, physical, and psychological) and external (theological, social, and cultural) needs of formators.

“If you lose an opportunity to do good, you will be like someone

who lets the bird fly away. You will never get it back.”

(St. John of the Cross)

The main purpose of young religious formation is to clarify one’s vocation and then to shape one’s life in accordance with the charism of a congregation or religious life as a diocesan priest.  To accomplish these goals,  formators – as professional people – need to be lifelong learning.  Their unique ministry requires them to be positively effective on young candidates.  Likewise, their ministry should be satisfying the formators themselves.  Formators must proclaim their Christian faith clearly and convincingly, and demonstrate the nuances of charisms that are an essential part of dioecian priesthood or male and female religious lives.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

(John 10:10)

As professional people, formators are responsible for taking the initiatives in their personal and professional education. Formators deserve to feel competent in working with the young religious who have had their life experiences enormously different from their formators. The faithful deserve their future ministers to be shepherds and teachers who are full of love, responsibility, and wisdom. Formators play a critical role to help the dioceses, religious orders in the early formation to have the future ministers as God desires.

“Father, my prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:20)

What begins in a formation process for a young religious or seminarian should develop into a habit of life-long learning. Ideally, these young adults should want to grow in prayer, love for the Church, and a commitment to self-reflection. The formators have the responsibility to “light the spark of love” deeply in the young adults.  Therefore, it is only right and just to provide formators with the continuing opportunities that they need to stay competent and successful in the important tasks entrusted by the Church.

Love God, serve God; everything is in that.

(St. Clare of Assisi) 

III. The Scope of Continuing Formation for Formators

This CIS program offers formators the opportunity to explore again five areas of human experience that are integral to healthy human and spiritual development. The more formators feel comfortable “in their own skin,” the more they are able to assist others to do the same.

  • Physical:  Because they are human, formators are embodied persons. Healthy living depends on the proper functioning of their bodies.  Physical health has a direct impact on their ministry.
  • Psychological: Psychological well-being is a combination of affective (emotional), cognitive, and spiritual health.  Affective maturity enables the formators to express feeling appropriately and to interact with others in meaningful ways.  Cognitive ability includes the gathering and understanding of information essential to forming sound judgments. Spirituality touches the core of meaning for all human beings.  For formators, their relationship with the Risen Jesus of Nazareth is within their deep sense of meaning.
  • Sexual: Sexuality links the physical, psychological, and spiritual life of persons in unique and inseparable ways.  These dimensions of life converge to make us who we are.  Sexuality is the embodiment of passion, an amount of energy, a direction to connect, to belong to, to give life, both privately and universally. For most people, this convergence is not an easy task; it takes time and guidance. Understanding, accepting, and integrating our sexuality is necessary for balanced maturity.  The formator’s peaceful acceptance of his/her own sexuality is of central importance in their ability to accompany young religious or seminarians to know, accept and love themselves.
  • Pastoral: The pastoral life of formators entails the development of skills they need to serve people well. They need to understand the cultural complexities of contemporary Vietnam (Covid-19 is a good example of this) and how these impact young adults.  Young adults are at the core of the formator’s ministry.  Now more than ever before, accompanying young adults in their early formation will have a deep impact on the life of the future Vietnamese Church.
  • Spiritual: A balanced and integrated spirituality is at the core of the formator’s life and ministry.  The formators’ relationships to Christ, to the People of God, and themselves are part of who they are.  The formator is always one of the most positive factors to build the foundational development of young adults under their care.

“One day of humble self-knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer.”

(St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle)

PART TWO: PROGRAM AGENDA

 I. Formation as a Profession

The formation, a synonym for development, is the process of developing, growth, or directed change.  The religiously focused formator is a professional person who assists their candidates in the growth toward and into service to the People of God as a religious or diocesan priest.  The more formators are at home “in their own skin,” the more readily can they accompany others in this difficult human and spiritual journey.

The first days of the program will aim at mutual understanding and team building among the participating formators

A.       The Formator as Human and Catholic

My History~My Story: the well-outlined questions that might be helpful for formators to ask of themselves as they share who they are with one another:

  • Who am I? How did I grow into the person I am now? What experiences were helpful in my development?  What were the areas of struggle?
  • What has been my faith history? How have I experienced the Vietnamese Church? What attracts and consoles me? What might be troublesome or distasteful about it?
  • Who is Jesus Christ for me? How would I introduce Jesus the Christ to someone of a different faith or no faith at all?

As mentioned in Part One, the five universal areas of human experience are integral to healthy experience: physical, psychological, sexual, pastoral, and spiritual.  As universal experiences, each human being experiences them in ways particular to him/her self.  Thus, universalness is alive in the particular.  In this CIS program, formators will have the opportunity to review and expand their self-understanding of each and all of five areas. These things will occur during the first days of the program.

Physical:  A respected physician of internal medicine will spend a day with participants to discuss preventative care for common health problems in Vietnam such as the importance of good nutrition; and sound ways to maintain general good health. (1 to 2 days of class)

Psychological:  A practicing psychologist will spend a day (or 2) with participants to discuss psychological health; stress reduction; how to maintain sound mental and emotional health, and to build a strong base of self-care that adjusts to the changes in ministry and age.

Sexual:  A practicing psychologist with long experience in sexual health will spend a morning with participants to discuss sound sexual development; some common issues of concern in sexual development; and how to be emotionally and spiritually healthy as balanced persons. (1 to 2 days)

“Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life.”

(St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata)

(The pastoral and spiritual conversations will occur in the next section.)

B.        The Professional Life of the Formators

  • “What is my experience as a formator, past, and present?”
  • “How did I get into this area of ministry?”
  • “How have I been successful as a formator? Where might I need to improve my competence as a formation person?”

Pastoral:  Bishop Nguyen Van Kham of My Tho Diocese will spend a morning with participants to discuss his view of religious formation; successful formation programs, and what might better prepare men and women seeking ministries to the People of God.  Formators are very important ministers of the Word of God to those they accompany or direct (discussion in the afternoon).

            Spiritual

  • The program will invite a respected priest, a professor of Magisterium and Education to present and discuss with participants the Catholic Magisterium and Education in accordance with a number of relevant documents of the Catholic Church (1 school day).
  • Nguyen Duc Hanh, SJ, Director of CIS, will facilitate a morning discussion on the spiritual experience of the participants. As part of the program, an Eight Day Ignatian-style retreat will be offered to all formators before the end of this program. All formators are encouraged to continue their own spiritual accompaniment during this program.

    “The mission of the pastors is to help the flock entrusted to them, that it be always out-going, on the move to proclaim the joy of the Gospel.”

(Pope Francis at Feast of St. Andrew & St. Gregory Rome, Oct. 5, 2016) 

 II. The Men and Women Formators

A.                Contemporary Vietnam – Some Highlights

Vietnam has undergone rapid change over the past 10 years.  The nation’s GDP has grown significantly, yet it mainly benefits a small number of the “super-rich.”  A desired middle class has not materialized as quickly as predicted.  Most workers have still struggled to province adequate funds for the decent life of their families.  One result is the sharp drop in the size of families, including Catholic ones.  Politically, the nation has further coalesced around a small “in-group” that perpetuates itself.  Culturally, the Internet has given access to almost everything imaginable; adolescents (teenagers) and young adults have full access to it.  Regarding the Catholic population, the percentage of Catholics in 2019, seven percent (7%), unchanged from the percentage in 2009.  (Church’s Book of Statistics, Summary of Bulletin, Holy See Press Office, October, 2019.  In 2009, the population was 87 million; in 2019, it was 98 million people according to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam.)  Evangelization, although frequently spoken about, has not had significant success. Last but not least, a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic – extending into its second year – has brought stress and suffering to all particularly citizens who are often financially challenged even before the start of the epidemic.

Formators need to be keenly aware and sensitive to the impact of these many changes which have affected the personal history (Story) of those they hope to form.  Formators will benefit positively by remembering that their own adolescent and early adult years were significantly different from that of their candidates and young adults of whom the formators are in charge.

B.        The “In’s and Out’s of Ongoing Formation

            The formators’ competency and the service they offer to depend on the depth of their own ability to relate openly and consistently to their God, to other people, and to themselves.  Similarly, the five areas of human development important for formators are the same areas important for those they help to form and serve.  These are the physical, psychological, sexual, pastoral, and spiritual.  Contemporary formation programs will take each of these areas of human experience seriously.  This CIS program suggests that formators (and their teams) emphasize the following.  Formators will play key roles in their implementation. 

Physical

  • Each candidate be required to present a report of good health issued by a reputable medical clinic.
  • Formators be attentive to the benefit of frequent (and vigorous) exercise on the part of their charges. This ensures their continued good physical and mental health.          

Psychological

  • Each candidate be required to undergo a mental health review by a reportable psychologist so that issues of depression, anxiety, emotional immaturity, sexual abuse, and chronic lack of self-esteem be identified early. This allows decisions about the mental and emotional health of candidates to be made early.
  • To understand the dynamics between the family and the candidate; to discover the sense of call coming from personal freedom or family pressure (or any pressure else).
  • While the attractions to religious life and diocesan priesthood are many, the formators need to know if there is a basic generosity and personal response in the person of candidates or not. A good psychological interviewer will be able to pick up on this need.
  • Under the direction of the formator, a psychologist be available for occasional discussions on stress reduction, conflict resolution, and other issues related to good mental health.
  • The formator helps candidates to communicate openly and honestly with him/her by being a worthy example of openness and honesty.

Sexual

  • Sexual life and the emotions involving with it are continual aspects of human life. They are foundational to human experience.  Men and women are sexual beings who have experienced sexuality differently.  Candidates to religious life and diocesan priesthood have experienced the same sexual urges and desires as ever other human beings at their same age.  The religious vow of chastity and the law of celibacy required in the diocesan priesthood bring with their unique issues and questions.  Many problems within religious life and diocesan priesthood have arisen due to poor sexual information, inadequate discussions of real issues within their vowed life, and a poor understanding of how to live the commitment at different stages of life.
  • Formators need to be peaceful when discussing issues such as normal sexual desire and excitement, masturbation, homosexual feelings and/or orientation, gay, lesbian, and LGBTQ lifestyles, and falling in love. How do candidates integrate their sexual life into their vocation?
  • The sexuality of vowed religious and diocesan priests not only affects them individually but also impacts their relationships with the People of God whom they serve.
  • This CIS program of ongoing formations will offer opportunities to participants to discuss these issues with competent authorities in psychology, counseling, human development, and Christian morality.

Pastoral

  • With very few exceptions (such as seriously cloistered communities), the lives of religious men and women, and diocesan priests are pointed toward service to the People of God and others. Formators will want to know the volunteer pastoral and service works of their candidates previous to entry.  These interests should be encouraged and given new opportunities for service integrated into the formation program.
  • Candidates should express keen interest in the charisms of the religious community or diocesan priesthood. Formators will need to find opportunities for candidates to express their pastoral interests and to deepen their pastoral skills.
  • It cannot be mentioned enough that the service expressed in priestly and religious-like is deeply interwoven with pastoral care.
  • Part of the pastoral skill required by formators is the ability to accompany candidates thru moments of vocational quest and struggle.
  • The manner in which formators interact with those whom they live with is the most viable way to express and encourage a love for pastoral ministry.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when all else fails, use words.”

(St. Francis of Assisi)

Spiritual

  • In preparation for the admission of candidates, formators need to understand how candidates relate to God. Is God the One who loves them unconditionally and invites them to grow and become strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God (Luke 2:40); or is God a “policeman” seeking to entrap them in guilt and shame?
  • Spirituality is a dynamic personal growth toward authenticity with God, others, and the self. How formators project themselves as a religious or priest will be a specific example to candidates of authenticity with God, others, and themselves.  How to lead candidates toward a mature acceptance of God’s love while learning how to live more simply and according to the charisms of their congregation or diocesan service.
  • Helping candidates to develop habits of personal prayer and openness to God. How to be an active and contemplative person at the same time.
  • Helping the candidates understand and welcome the particular expressions of spirituality that is part of the charisms of their congregation? Does the seminarian show a desire to develop a prayer life appropriate to diocesan priestly life?
  • Helping the candidates to develop a familiarity with Christ, to love the Eucharistic Mass, and make good use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

III. Criteria for Entrance into Professional Church Ministry

Because a candidate feels that he or she is being called to a religious congregation or to the diocesan priesthood, which does not mean that they actually have such a calling.  As stated above (in The “In’s and Out’s of Ongoing Formation, Psychology), each candidate should be required to undergo psychological and physical examinations, and the results of these tests need to be sent directly to the formation team via the professional examiner.  Then, three actions are required of the formation team: 1), reviewing all the information and discussing the results as a team; 2), analyzing the information according to the criteria the formation team (or congregation or diocese) that has set for entrance into the congregation of the diocese; and 3), a decision is made in a timely manner about the entrance or not.  For the sake of maturity and transparency, each candidate needs to be informed clearly that he or she has been accepted and why.  For someone not accepted, he or she needs to be told the criteria used and where they did not meet those criteria.  If they are postponed for some months, they need to be told why.

“The things that we love tell us what we are.”  (St. Thomas Aquinas) 

 IV. Methodology of the Program and Other Items

            CIS will provide participants in this program with the best of instructors for each of the professional aspects relating to themselves and to those they will help to form.  This includes the needed reading materials, the meeting space, and the time for group discussion.  The learning environment is arranged to serve the mental, physical and spiritual development that is necessary for the continuing formation of their own skills and competence in the very important ministry of formation.

For the completion of the program, participants will be offered an Eight Day Ignatian style retreat to “top off” their personal renewal.

“To live is to change, and to change often is to become more God-like.”

(St. Cardinal John Newman) 

A.    Conditions for Participation

  • Age: participants must be over 38 years old and have already committed to the formation mission for at least 3 years.
  • Knowledge: having spiritual, theological and psychological knowledge, attendees are ready to follow the supplementary courses as they are required.
  • Education level: graduating from a 4-year university, possessing the capacity to listen, to read, and to understand English (Director of CIS might choose to let someone in but only case by case).
  • Quantity of enrollment: maximum of 16 participants (ideally, 50% male, 50% female) for each yearly course.
  • Participants
    1. Diocesan priests: having permission and a letter of recommendation from his diocesan bishop.
    2. Religious persons: a member in an institute of consecrated life or society needs to get permission and confirmation from one’s superior
  • Class Time/Course Sessions and Knowledge
    1. Class Time/Course Sessions: the program lasts within 3 months and a half from September to the middle of December, including:
      1. Around 35 sessions, topical seminars, and discussions weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from the beginning of September until the end of November: 8:00 am – 11:00 am and 14:00 pm – 16:00 pm.
      2. 2 days of picnic with CIS staff and participants of the class course.
  • 8-Day Spiritual Exercises – The Ending Day of Program: Beginning of December.
  1. Knowledge: Attendees need to participate positively in all courses, topical seminars, and talks that are set up by its program.

 Profiles/Records

    1. Fill out the online application form – click Here
    2. A handwritten application form to the Program of the Formation for the Formators.
    3. A handwritten or typed paper on one A4 page sharing about “him/herself – individual person, vocation restlessness to this formation mission.
    4. A letter of recommendation from one’s diocesan bishop if the enrollee is a diocesan priest, or from a major superior if a member in an institute of consecrated life or society.
    5. Two card photos 4×6, not older than over one year since the day to fill out the application form (the staff of CIS may help participants on the first day of class)

B.    Location

  1. All courses, topical seminars, and discussions are hosted at the Đắc Lộ Center for the Ignatian Spirituality, 171 Lý Chính Thắng St, ward 7, district 3, Hồ Chí Minh city.
  2. Spiritual Exercises and the ending day of the program are organized at the Retreat House of Vietnam Jesuit Province located at Ngũ Phúc, Hố Nai commune, Trảng Bom district, Đồng Nai province.

C.     Enrollment

  • CIS will receive yearly the application forms at the beginning of June.
  • Enrollees are interviewed at the beginning of July
  • The Program for the Formator Formations is yearly announced in the middle of July.

D.    Cost for Program

Fee for instructors, lecturers, supervisors working in official class hours, and individual counseling

  • 000 vnđ/ one class hour, including:
    1. Fee for instructors, lecturers, supervisors working during the official class hours, and individual counseling
    2. Fee for the basic documents and books for each course subject (excluding other reference recommended documents)
  • 000 vnđ/ 1 one day of doing Spiritual Exercises: it includes expenditure for meals and accommodations, as well as cost for the givers of Spiritual Exercises.

E.     Certificate

When completing the study program, participants will receive their certificates conferred by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality to certify their participation and successful completeness of this program

V. The Board of Instructors (2022)

CIS will announce concretely the board of instructors for this formation program before the day of yearly enrollment.

May God bless all of you and our program!

Sài Gòn, 15 November 2021

Fr. Dominic Nguyễn Đức Hạnh, SJ

Director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality