Fr. Leo Sungkyu Choi is a mobile Salesian – that is, a Salesian who is open to moving wherever in the world he is needed most, on a temporary basis (usually around 3-6 years). It was in this way that Fr. Leo found himself packing up a few items and leaving his home in Gwangju, Korea for the St John Bosco parish in Engadine, Sydney, where he serves as an assistant priest and as a chaplain at the local St John Bosco primary school.
Fr. Leo went to a Salesian high school and it was there that he first encountered Don Bosco’s ways, as a young beneficiary. He enjoyed many pleasant times whilst studying and the Salesians there inspired him to follow his Salesian vocation into becoming a priest.
He completed practical training in Korea, theological studies in Manilia, and some further studies under Fr. Frank Moloney in Melbourne. With all this completed, he returned to Korea and worked in the formation house for 4 years.
The Engadine community of Salesians is a very multicultural one; Australia, Malta, Korea, Netherlands and Vietnam are all represented and according to Fr Leo, it is indicative to the fruits of wider Australian society.
Fr Leo and his community during a recent provincial visit.
“Australia itself is a well-functional multicultural society with ethnic and cultural diversity” he says. The Don Bosco formation house in Melbourne is a great and unique opportunity for young Salesians with diverse backgrounds to study and work closely together, learning how to work in harmony within an international environment.”
Indeed, Fr Leo even has an eye for the possibility of a bigger picture; the formation house “could be a cradle that brings up religious leaders who can serve others with various cultural background, since they experience within one international community many confreres from different countries.”
The Engadine community also has an extremely diverse range of ministries. “Our community is entrusted with a Valdocco-like variety of fields” is the way Fr Leo puts it. There is a Parish, Primary and Secondary school, Youth Centre and Sports Club, Dunlea Centre and the Girls Home which is shared with the nearby FMAs.
Fr Leo pictured after a baptism with some very proud parents and their beautiful baby!
Of course, being a Mobile Salesian in Australia isn’t without its challenges. Even though there is a large Korean Catholic community in Sydney (meaning Fr Leo can get a slice of his home culture and food when he gets a little bit too homesick!) and Australia in general is well exposed to international guests in this way, the language barrier can still be very strong.
Fr Leo believes that acquiring English is a necessity for those who carry out pastoral care in Australia as it is easily the most spoken language amongst young people. “However,” he says, “This is not something that you should be afraid of; based on my personal experience, this challenge can be gradually overcome as time goes by having the correct attitude, patience and applying constant effort”.
Cultural differences can also prove to be roadblocks to accepted one another and working together. Fr Leo believes that while it can be difficult for us to accept the differences in others, “the moment we recognise and accept the differences, we can recognise the diversity of those differences and become mature through the experience.“ One can only imagine how much more pleasent our world would be if everyone were to adopt this mantra!
Changing tracks for a moment, Fr Leo tackles another issue affecting the Salesians and the wider Church, dwindling vocations. Acknowledging that there are potentially multiple reasons at play, Fr leo adds that “the fundamental reason lies in the fact that our lives may not be a very attractive example for the young people.”