The Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), popularly known as Scheut Missions, celebrated their 150th anniversary with a Mass at the Church of the Holy Spirit, which they helped build.
“What we celebrate is our faith in the Lord and proclaiming the Good News,” CICM priest Fr Anthony Lim told the 300-strong crowd on Nov 28 during his homily.
Fr Lim shared about his pilgrimage to Inner Mongolia, China, earlier this year, in which he was spiritual director for 25 other Catholics. It was his first time visiting the region and seeing the works that other CICM members had done.
The group visited Tiger Valley, where CICM founder Fr Theophile Verbist died in February 1868 after working for three years in Inner Mongolia.
Fr Verbist had a dream of preaching the Gospel in China.
Fr Lim and his fellow pilgrims saw the room Fr Verbist died in as well as photos of the late CICM members who had served in that parish. Later, they visited the cemetery where the bodies of nine missionaries were laid to rest.
Fr Lim shared that many of them died in their 20s and 30s either of diseases or were tortured to death during the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901) in China.
“The tombs of these missionaries are signs of their strong faith and their close relationship with Jesus,” said Fr Lim, “each one committing himself to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation, just like the apostles.”
Archbishop Nicholas Chia was the main celebrant at the Mass and he congratulated the CICM missionaries on the work they had done in Singapore.
History of Scheut Missions (CICM)
Scheut Missions began as the dream of a young priest from the Archdiocese of Mechelen in Belgium in the 1860s.
When Fr Théophile Verbist (1823-1868) learnt that missionaries might be allowed to work in China, he became convinced of his calling to preach the Gospel there even though he was a diocesan priest.
A few more diocesan priests from Belgium and Holland joined him, and on Nov 28, 1862, the statutes of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were approved.
They set up their headquarters, or motherhouse, at Scheut, a suburb of Brussels – hence the name Scheut Missions.
Three years later, Fr Verbist left Belgium for mission work in Inner Mongolia, accompanied by four others.
Their main task was to obtain financial support, recruit, train and send new members to China to reinforce the first group. In early 1868, Fr Verbist succumbed to typhoid fever and died.
However, from then on, the number of CICM members and their mission territories kept growing.
From 1865 until the expulsion of missionaries from China in the early 1950s, no fewer than 679 CICM members were active there.
In 1888, CICM accepted a new mission territory at the request of the Vatican and the king of Belgium: the vast area of newly discovered Congo. In 1907, CICM concentrated its efforts in the Philippines when there was a need to replace the Spanish missionaries there.
CICM in Singapore
CICM was set up in Singapore in 1931 to support the mission in China and the Philippines.
In 1953, Belgium-born CICM Bishop Carlo van Melckebeke was appointed by the Holy See as Apostolic Visitor of the Overseas Chinese.
The former Bishop of Ningxia, who was forced to leave China in 1952, set up office in Singapore. He established the Singapore Catholic Central Bureau (today’s Carlo Society) for the diffusion of Catholic literature in Southeast Asia, and initiated several Mandarin language publications including Hai Sing Pao, the archdiocesan Mandarin newspaper.
He died in 1980 and his remains are at the Church of the Holy Spirit.
The CICM also sent Dutch members to the Toraja area of Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 1937.
After World War II, and after China closed its doors to foreign missionaries, the CICM started accepting requests from bishops in Asia, such as in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, to set up the congregation in these places.
Ministries in Singapore
The CICM participates regularly in Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) activities and has held talks to foster better understanding of other faiths.
One of its members, Fr Angel Luciano, provides pastoral care to migrant workers, especially those from the Philippines. Since 2004, he has been the spiritual director of the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.
Another priest, Fr Romeo Yu Chang, is the Regional Coordinator of the Apostleship of the Sea for East and Southeast Asia. He speaks English, Tagalog, Bicolano (a language of the Philippines), Cantonese and Mandarin.
The CICM is a co-founder of the Archdiocesan Commission for Missionary Activity (ACMA) and also promotes evangelisation through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Two CICM members have also published books – Steps on My Missionary Journey by Fr Peter Koh and Dwelling in God’s Love by Fr Frans De Ridder.
Missionhurst magazine, published by CICM in the US, is also sent bi-monthly to over 1,000 friends and supporters of the Scheut Missions in Singapore.
By Martin See