APRIL 2006

Recently some well-intentioned women Catholics asked me for my opinion on baptism by total immersion practised in some of our modern churches during the Easter Vigil Mass.

I was lost for an answer as I had only witnessed one mass baptism by total immersion carried out in a church in the City District which sadly degenerated to a kind of child play in the makeshift inflatable tub of water towards the end of the ritual.

These women told me they were not supportive of this method of baptism. They claimed that when it was held in one church, the men were gawking at some women candidates who emerged from the pool wet, revealing their well- endowed feminine features. It was somewhat scandalising for them to see such a thing happening in church.

In future, perhaps these baptismal women candidates could be appropriately clothed in a thick black gown before they enter the pool so that they do not appear immodest when they emerge from the water.

They voiced another concern on women about to complete their period. In such a case, would they be allowed to partake in the immersion or would pouring water over the head be administered specially for them during the mass baptism ceremony?

These are, no doubt, relevant issues which deserve attention as well as a reply from the relevant church authorities.

    Nelson Quah

Recently when I attended Mass at a church in the East District, it was made known to the congregation that Holy Communion would not be given on the tongue and when it  was given on the hand, it would be done with no physical contact made between the priest and the communicant.  This according to the young priest was an edict from the Archbishop in order to prevent any outbreak of the Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) here.

During communion time, I observed that the priest took the precaution of avoiding physical contact when giving Holy Communion to communicants on the hand.  It appeared awkward as if he was giving a piece of wafer to lepers.  I could understand his action if we stood in danger of an imminent Ebola outbreak in which case Catholics would abstain from receiving Communion or even stay at home

What has happened to our faith in God's providence?  Has it withered in the face of the threat from the HFMD?

Don't we any longer believe in the power of the Body of Christ to protect and preserve us from all evil and harm?

It was ironic - after what had transpired - to hear the priest utter the Prayer after Communion: "Lord, may we always receive the protection of this sacrifice.  May it keep us safe from all harm."   I found it hard to reconcile his words with his action.

Many Catholics are upset over this matter.  They feel that the Catholic Church in Singapore should not over-react but continue to give Holy Communion either on the tongue or the hand, fully believing that Jesus' own Body will keep us safe from all harm.

If it is any consolation, perhaps one solution that may help the priests to continue giving Holy Communion on the communicants' tongue without them touching the mouth or tongue is to have slightly larger hosts.

Surely, there are unsuspecting ways the HFMD can be transmitted in church even after taking every possible

precaution.  If we as a faith community do not trust in God's providence and protection it will be better for all Catholics to stay at home until it is safe for them to return to church.

    Nelson Quah

Despite the "hiccup" between the Vatican and the traditional priestly Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) - which hopefully will be resolved soon - I have this comment to make about the public dress code and behaviour of these priests.

On different occasions, I came across these priests along Orchard Road, on MRT trains and buses and it was most edifying to see them in their neat cassock, proudly wanting to identify themselves as Catholic priests to all and sundry. Their deep love and commitment for their priestly vocation is reflected clearly in the proper way they conduct themselves in public, which speaks volumes for the Church, their Society and their zeal to make Jesus Christ known to others.

Some old local priests I know when I was a teenager behaved in very much the same manner as the SSPX priests. They were so proud of their cassock that it never failed to be a part of their dress code wherever they went. The power of the cassock as a powerful tool of evangelism - at least in evoking curiosity among non-Catholics about the faith -should not be underestimated.

Today many of our local priests are more comfortable to appear in public in civilian garb as they prefer anonymity for reasons best known to themselves.

My intention in writing this letter is not to criticise our local priests but to encourage them to be proud of their priestly vocation and to manifest it publicly by proudly donning the cassock.

Catholics love their faith and priests and it saddens them to see their priests hidding behind the cloak of anonymity in public. Wearing the cassock clearly marks them out as Catholic priests.

If the pope can make it a point to put on his papal garb in public why can't our local priests do the same with their cassock?

    Nelson Quah

As we are into the season of Lent, the last supper comes to mind. The celebration of the Eucharist also calls to mind, that we share the Body and Blood of Christ. However, although we receive the Body we did not receive the Blood of Christ. I am wondering if we are in any way defaulting on the doctrinal instruction of Christ Jesus.

I cannot recollect when was the last time I had the opportunity to receive the Blood of Christ? However as a child I received it when we had Mass during a Church picnic. How amazing but it is true. I fully understand that it is tedious and cumbersome process of sharing but certainly I hope it is not due to this reason that it is not done at every Mass.

    Peter Andrew

I AM IN Primary Five of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Bukit Timah. I enjoy reading the articles in the Kid's Page. They are not only interesting but inspiring and have helped me to understand my faith better.

I always look forward to reading every new issue that is published. As children we always enjoy humorous Christian jokes, cartoons and simple stories with a moral and religious teaching. It would be good if CatholicNews can publish some jokes and cartoons in future issues.

Thank you for being so thoughtful to us children by reinstating the Kid's Page.

    Clare Quah

I READ WITH great concern the report, "The Da Vinci Code: The Movie. Risk or Opportunity?"  (CN, Apr 2). Dan Brown's sensational and best-selling novel - with 50 million copies in print - is a marketing success which thrives on controversy and conspiracy theories in religion and art.

It has an appealing story line which according to him is based on fiction which many readers unwittingly believe as fact. The novel's claims that Jesus was married and had a child, the Bible was compiled by Constantine in the 4th century AD and the early church did not preach or believe that Jesus was the Son of God are not only offensive but also blasphemous.

The author relied on highly questionable and heretical sources - which could be proven as erroneous by reliable historical records - to support its outlandish claims in order to cast doubt on the Bible and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

With the movie expected to be released for screening in mid-May this year, many more millions of people will be introduced to the controversies the book has triggered off. The Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore should see this as an opportunity for proactive evangelism. It should properly train all catechists and priests in the defence of the faith against such heresies so that they can help the faithful and the catechumens to sort fact from fiction from the maliciously unfounded claims in "The Da Vinci Code".

If not refuted the blasphemous claims of Dan Brown may be accepted by many as the gospel truth.

    Nelson Quah

FrHenrySiew.jpgMoney is an important and sensitive issue in married life. Father Henry Siew advises on ways to handle financial matters.

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend.

It is good to have money

ONE IMPORTANT ASPECT of married life is related to financial affairs. How this is managed will directly affect spousal relationship. If it is properly done, life can be a breeze. But when the reverse is true, its effect on family life can be disastrous. Money is an important and also a sensitive matter. Couples must handle it with care.

Is it best to place the responsibility of managing the family finances on one person,just one person to control all the expenses of the household as well as every member's personal expenses? Let us look at the following situation:

A newly wedded wife suddenly demands that she should be fully in charge of family money. Her husband is taken aback and does not express his opinion immediately. The next day he brings home her favourite durians. When the wife is eating the durians, he asks her, "Ling, do you think you will enjoy it more when I buy you the durians or when you buy them yourself?"

"Of course when you buy them for me!" she replies. "You see, if I let you have all the money, I won't be able to buy you durians," he explains. The wife accepts her husband's point of view and gladly agrees that they should share the responsibility of managing their money.

Depending on their personal taste and consumption habits, members of a household may have different views on what to spend on and how much even for ordinary expenses like utility bills, conservancy charges, groceries, phone bills, rental and children's expenses; or for shared durable goods like the sofa, electrical appliances, computers; or other expenses like renovation.

A family must try to work out their differences and make an arrangement that is acceptable to all. Should a single person be fully in-charge of these common expenses, or is it better to split the responsibility between husband and wife? This question can only be answered by the couple themselves.

People should know their own character and capability, strengths and weaknesses. Between the couple, if one person is impulsive and disorganised, this person obviously should not be the "Finance Minister". The person who is more organised and careful about spending is more suitable for the job.

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Common and individual expenses

Even when it is decided that only one person should be in charge of the family finances, it does not mean that the other spouse should be totally hands-off and not bother at all. The other spouse has the right to express an opinion and should always help out. When circumstances change, they should adapt and alter the management style. The basic rule is this: The best person under the particular circumstances should be the one managing the finances.

Spouses should decide beforehand the amount of money each should contribute every month to an account for common expenses, and the person agreed to by both parties should manage this account. In this way, undesirable behaviour like impulse buying or uncontrollable spending can be avoided.

Besides this common account, husband and wife should maintain separate individual accounts. This is not "secret money" that husband or wife keep from each other; rather it is "open money" owned by each individual. If both are working, they should agree on the amount each one should contribute to their common fund. The formula used to derive the amount could be based on income level or other index agreed upon by both. The remaining income will become the "private property" of each spouse.

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When only one spouse is working

If only one party is working, normally the bulk of the income will have to be in the common pool. However, the working person can also keep some money for personal expenses. The nonworking spouse should be entitled to personal money as well. It is wrong to think "You shouldn't have any private money if you are not working".

The party who is not working actually sacrifices the opportunity to earn an income in order to take care of the family. He or she has the right to some economic power too. It is not fair for one to be totally dependent on the working spouse and not have some degree of financial freedom. A person united to another in marriage should still maintain his or her individuality. Personal rights and dignity should not be forfeited. Each individual has his or her own preferences, hobbies and friends.

Married couples will of course do things together as a family; however, they should also be allowed to have personal choices. For instance, the wife may like to read; she can buy her favourite books with her own money. Likewise, the husband may enjoy music; he can purchase CDs with his own money. This way, the non-working spouse can have the freedom to buy what he or she wants without having to constantly ask for money.

It is unjust to have one party monopolise the financial power and have total control of the spouse's spending. If the person who holds the purse strings says to a spouse, "We are married, and my money is yours. Why bother having a separate personal account?" the retort is: "Give your spouse all the money then."

When a couple have separate personal accounts, disagreements will be easier to resolve. For example, if the wife likes to give her parents a bigger allowance, she can take it from her own account. If the husband wants to give a bigger donation to the church or charity, he can take it from his personal account as well.

Ideally the couple should compromise and agree on these issues through discussion. Through dialogue they can learn responsibility and establish a solid foundation for family unity.

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The problem with "secret money"

The least ideal situation is to keep "secret money". This is likely to cause suspicion. If the husband is the one having a secret account, and the wife finds out, she may suspect that he is having an affair or keeping money for his own family. If it is the wife with the secret account, the husband may "punish" her by giving her less allowance for household expenses.  Whichever the case, it will lead to unnecessary quarrels and conflicts.

Even if the secret is not discovered, the person having the secret account may live in a state of anxiety. A good marital relationship may be ruined because of this. The fact is, everyone is entitled to have some personal money. Rather than play hide-and-seek, spouses should respect each other's right to have such financial freedom.

However, there may be special circumstances that may cause a person to keep a secret account - like fear that wrongdoing may recur and therefore some money should be "secreted away" just in case it is needed. Otherwise, in a normal marital relationship, there should not be such a thing as a secret account.

To summarise, spending should always be wise and within one's means, be it for family or personal expenses; the person who has more self-control should be the one in charge of family expenses; and each spouse is entitled to his or her own private money; money matters are very important to spousal relationship, and a couple must pay due attention to it! And gambling should be avoided because it can ruin a perfectly happy family. â– 

 

 

ClementLim.jpgClement Lim's father was a Buddhist medium who had seven wives. During a period of 20 years, Clement was in and out of prison nine times for crimes that involved drugs, rioting and running illegal gambling dens. "It seemed alright (committing crime) at that time because I got what I wanted," the 49-year-old ex-convict shared. Then came his amazing change.

Amazing Grace,

How sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost,

But now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

CLEMENT IS THE youngest of three siblings. His father was a Buddhist medium with seven wives and Clement did not receive the support needed from the family to grow into a responsible adult. Clement followed his father's "religious" practices and assisted him with the rituals even though he knew they were all faked and designed to con others. "But I did this because I wanted to seek my father's attention as well as to make some money," he confessed.

The philosophy of life that his father taught him was: "If you want something, you have to fight for it. Don't expect your family to  give it to you. Nothing is free." Knowing that he could never acquire things like fame and money from his family members, Clement decided to enter a secret society when he was 12.

During his National Service, Clement was locked in the detention barracks for a year for going AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave). In 1977, following his discharge from the army, Clement got married in a shotgun wedding to his first wife, with whom he had a child.

He returned to the secret society and got involved in drug dealing. He then helped to set up illegal gambling dens in Australia but after barely six months there, he ran afoul of the law. He fled to Thailand, where he was put behind bars for consuming drugs. This was in 1981. For the next 20 years, Clement would be imprisoned another eight times in various prisons in Singapore. His wife divorced him in 1984, citing his irresponsibility to the family.

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Life in prison

Prison life was harsh. Clement discovered that the first lesson inmates learn is to obey. There were long periods of time throughout the day where the prisoners do nothing but sit on the floor silently. During the first part of his final term in prison, Clement was assigned to work in a prison for psychiatric inmates, whom he also stayed with.

"I looked at all the mad people and started to ask myself if there was something wrong with me, being in and out of prison so many times over such a long period," he said. "I was tired of this life." "I felt sore and bitter. I asked [God], "Why so fast?" as it had been just two weeks after I was last released from prison (and now I am back in again)."

It was at this time when a fellow prisoner offered Clement a Bible and asked him to declare that he was a Christian as it was close to Christmas time. "Food for Christians was better on Christmas Day," explained Clement. "If I had been imprisoned close to Vesak Day, I would have claimed that I was a Buddhist. Also, I joined my other Protestant friends for counselling sessions, not because I wanted to join in their praise and worship sessions, but simply because I wanted to chat with them."

During one of the counselling sessions, Clement met a Catholic counsellor who greeted him with the words, "Peace be with you." He thought to himself, "What peace? I don't have any peace now." He told the counsellor that he didn't know anything about the faith but he wanted a Bible. The counsellor initially rejected his request, knowing that inmates had uses for the Bible other than reading them.

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A life changing experience

Since 1994 Clement had suffered from a hearing impairment. In addition, pus oozed from his ears. By 2000 he could not bear the disease any longer and he sought medical help. A visiting Justice of Peace arranged for him to be brought, handcuffed and shackled, to the hospital, where the doctor diagnosed that both his eardrums were torn and surgery was necessary.

However, the prison authorities told him that he had to wait for his prison sentence to end two years later before he could be operated on. In the meantime, he was given medication to alleviate the symptoms. When Clement told his friends about the doctor's diagnosis and his predicament, his Protestant friends told him, "God is the only one who can help you."

Clement was initially sceptical but after some time he agreed to give it a try. As he had never been taught how to pray, he simply prayed, "Jesus, please heal me," "Jesus, please heal me," again and again. He kept praying this until his next visit to the hospital two weeks later. There, the astonished doctor informed him that the tears in his eardrums had been cured and that his ears were restored to normal. The doctor even wondered if he had originally misdiagnosed Clement's disease.

"Are you surprised? Jesus healed me," said Clement to the doctor, and he replied, "If this is your God, you must pray to him, ask him to guide you, and praise and worship him." Following this, Clement yearned to learn more about this incredible God, this Jesus who touched his ears and healed him. He began to ask the counsellor questions and started reading the Catholic Bible, finishing it from cover to cover in eight months.

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Making the choice

As his release from imprisonment drew near, Clement inquired about Catholic halfway houses where he could go to. The counsellor informed him of Heartville, an aftercare centre for former inmates, run by Catholic Welfare Services.

On the day he was discharged from prison, an old friend of Clement's came to fetch him in a car with women to entertain him. Across the road was the aftercare officer, waiting for him. That day, Clement made his choice to turn away from his former life and begin a new one. He informed his friend that he would leave with the aftercare officer.

"Are you sure?" his friend asked him. Clement hesitated for a moment. He recalled, "At that moment of hesitancy, several Bible verses jumped into my mind, particularly that of Romans 12:2 - 'Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.'"

"I will go with the aftercare officer," Clement firmly told his friend.

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Receiving the sacraments

As part of his aftercare programme, Clement worked for the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM). Unfortunately Heartville closed down before he could be baptised. He then attended RCIA at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, where he was baptised by Father Benedict Chua on Mar 13, 2002. About 50 people, including all the FMM nuns, celebrated the joyous occasion with him and threw a party for him.

"I was very touched by the presence, love and concern of the people there," he admitted. "I asked myself why I had so many friends, and the verse from John 15:5 came into my mind - 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me, as I in you and you will bear much fruit.' That was when I realised that all I had came from God. When I chose to remain close to God and to trust in him, God provided all that I needed and more."

After his baptism, Clement reconciled with his estranged family, and discovered that his own father too had converted to Catholicism and was baptised before he died. Clement also met with his son, now 29, and asked for his forgiveness. Reconciled, they now meet at least once a month.

"I came a long way, so I understand that I must cherish whatever comes my way," he said. In this case, what has come his way is Diana, a widow with two children. They first met when they both went with the Ministry for the Sick to pray for someone at a hospital. "Encounters come naturally when God plans them," he explained.

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Clement fell in love with her and, with her consent, approached Carmelite Father Thomas Lim to seek advice on the situation. After appropriate investigations and approval by the church, Clement married Diana on Jul 3, 2004 at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul at a Mass concelebrated by Fathers Thomas Lim and Benedict Chua.

Clement now uses his prison experiences to minister and aid other counsellors in the Prison Ministry, where he shares his Catholic faith with the inmates. He shared his prison experiences and his conversion story to an interested audience at Cana - The Catholic Centre on Mar 8.

"In the Last Judgement, the King says to those on his right hand, 'I was in prison, and you visited me'. I've been in prison before, and I can use that experience to minister to the inmates in a way that the other counsellors cannot. I was given freely, so I now give back freely.

"I tell the inmates that they can be free, not just when they leave the prison and walk out the gates; they can be free even while in prison," Clement said during an interview at Cana, where twice a week, he volunteers as an odd-job man. "Even if you are free from prison, so long as your thoughts remain in there, you will return there," he emphasised.

Petra, another volunteer at Cana, who first met Clement in 2002 at the aftercare centre where he was at, said, "He's dependable, inspiring, and positive in what he says."

Kim, 32, a counsellor at the Church of Christ the King, attended the session and said that she was "interested to find someone who is involved in counselling but [who] has been on the other side [and] is now on this side helping others."

"I think his sharing experience is a unique gift!" she exclaimed. "I really admire … the hope that he gives to people who have been or are experiencing this, struggling with it, and he's saying, 'Look, there is always that ray of light; that you can do something different.'"

JamesTan.jpgJames Tan's search for meaning to his life brought him to the RCIA. His faith journey allayed his doubts and fears and eventually led him to appreciate the many gifts that had been present in his life all along.

James (centre) sings for the church choir today, after ending his search of the meaning of life in God.

I WAS BAPTISED on Easter 2004 at the Church of St. Anthony. We were the first batch of the new RCIA process conducted by Father Terence Pereira who had just become our parish priest a year before. My story really began two years earlier.

At 37, I was considered successful by most people with a wife and three kids, a good steady job as a mid-level manager with a large multi-national corporation. But I was not happy. Something was eating away inside of me. My relationship with my wife, Regina, had been very good, given that we had been a couple for eight years before we got married. But through the years of financial, career, and family pressures, our relationship became strained.

By the time we had our third child, Samantha, I felt miserable. I did not like my job but we were trapped by the lifestyle we had. Although we were drawing quite decent salaries, we were struggling to make ends meet every month. My dad had just passed away a couple of years earlier and it was only then that I learnt he had been in debt, having worked so hard all his life to provide for his family. And I was heading down that same path.

I began to realise that like most Singaporeans, we were brought up believing in the Singaporean dream. Suddenly, I began to see the futility of that dream. In some 20 more years, I might be like that person lying in the coffin. Suddenly, my life did not make that much sense anymore.

But it was difficult for Regina to understand what I was feeling and I found myself wishing that I did not have this family to care for so I could go places and do things that I wanted. But in my heart, there began a soft voice telling me that I was heading for trouble. I soon fell into depression and stopped talking with my wife to avoid quarrelling. My temper towards my family grew with time. I was losing myself a piece at a time.

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Then, one day, I attended a motivational seminar conducted by a guru from the United States. He asked, "What is it in your life that you have been putting off, that if you commit to do, you know will change your life forever?" I looked deep within myself, and I heard a voice within me saying, "Quit your job, and become a Catholic." I had no idea where the second part came from, but somehow, it made sense to me.

While I did not have any resource to do the first, I spoke to Regina about starting my journey to become a Catholic. (Regina was converted to Catholicism in her teens. We were married in church and she has always encouraged me to attend Mass. In 2001 my depression began and I stopped going to Mass altogether.) We learnt that I could still join the new RCIA process though I was late for a week. Little did we know that this was to change our lives forever.

At the first retreat, I was sceptical, especially with all the praise and worship going on. But I decided that since I was there, I should at least be open to it. A voice told me, "Just let go and feel". Suddenly, the memories of all the pain, the hurt, pressures and worries of my life just started to flash back into my mind and pour out of my heart. But I began to feel a comforting warmth flowing through me. Tears started to swell in my eyes.

Then as we went around offering signs of peace with hugs, I felt a sense of closeness and kinship that I had not felt for a very long time, ever since my childhood. When it came to my turn to hug Father Terence, I was hesitant at first. Growing up in a mission school, my image of a priest was that he was way up high at the altar. Never would I imagine to be so close to one, let alone to hug him. But I did anyway.

Something happened. As I hugged him, it was like hugging my own father again, except somehow in a much closer way, I felt a closeness that I have never felt before but have always longed for. Tears poured out of me and I was crying like a baby!

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As the months passed, God revealed to me many things about my life through the RCIA lessons and retreats, among which was that my wife was indeed a gift from God. I always loved my wife Regina but have never seen her in that light until I saw her through God's eyes! Looking back, I realised she had come into my life when I prayed for someone to love and to love me. She was the one person in my life who has constantly steered me, guided me, and supported me even when she disagreed with me.

Through the lessons, I found myself looking at my life and my values. Examining how the pains and frustrations in my life came from the misplaced desires and values that I have picked up, I learnt that putting God first in our lives makes everything else fall in place though it may not be as we imagine!

Through this RCIA experience, my life and my entire family has changed. Regina and I are now serving in the choir, the same one we joined during my journey through the RCIA, and where I found my godparents.

Most recently, my mother who has been a devoted Taoist decided to join our choir and has started to go for Novena every Saturday on her own. As a result, she is attending Sunday Masses without fail. Looks like she intends to join the RCIA for the upcoming June intake. Praise the Lord!

To you who are reading this, I want to say that the Lord works in his own way. Sometimes, we can become his instruments and touch someone's life and change them forever. If ever there is an opportunity that arises, don't hold back. You might be saving their lives without knowing it.

LynnFoo.jpgLynn Foo was a contented Buddhist and then she heard God's call, and her faith changed.

Lynn holds her niece, Sarah, whose illness was what led Lynn to the bible and onwards to RCIA and baptism.

MANY OF MY friends who are "cradle Catholics" never did a programme like RCIA, which gives an enriching overview of the faith. They attended catechism classes when they were young, and I think those classes give a different perspective of the faith (tailored to their age). When they are older, they have the impression that they should already "know" the faith and, therefore, there is no necessity to continue in any faith formation programmes or even attend Bible classes to strengthen their understanding of the teachings.

I even have a Catholic friend who has now "converted" to Protestantism and who says that what he understands now of the faith is many times more than all those years he was a Catholic! So I think converts are more passionate - from my conversations with "cradle Catholics" - but I guess it's due to the fact that our journeys take different routes.

My journey began in mid- 2003 (and I was already 43 then) when I started searching for God. You see, for almost 20 years before that, I was a devout Buddhist, often reading Buddhist literature and fervently going to the temple every other day. I was quite happy with the religion as the Buddhist teachers had taught me all the precepts necessary for a peaceful and charitable life. But somehow I never quite had a relationship with Buddha and I left it at that.

One day I got a call from my mum telling me that my cousin's little girl was ill and had been hospitalised. Soon, our hospital visits became more frequent and somehow that brought the family closer together. In our daily conversations, my cousin would praise God for helping him and his family through the difficult times especially when they weren't sure if his daughter would survive the trauma.

That started me asking the questions - "How do you know that there's a God?", "If there is a God, why doesn't he heal your little girl immediately?" or "Why doesn't God show himself then?"

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This went on for a while but my cousin would patiently answer my questions each time by telling me stories from the Bible. That got me curious. I told him that if that is what the Bible said, I would want to read it. And the more I read it, the more I was convinced that there was something to the Catholic faith but I couldn't quite put a finger to it.

Sometime in early 2004, I started to attend church regularly but I straddled between a popular Protestant church and a Catholic church every weekend. I did this for about eight months because I wanted to know the difference between the two.

At about the same time, a colleague introduced me to the RCIA but she insisted that I attend the one conducted by Father Richards Ambrose (which was then held in St. Anne's Church). I reluctantly did but since then I have not looked back. Father Richards did such a wonderful job of explaining the faith that I couldn't wait to be baptised. And when the RCIA culminated in my baptism in December 2004, it was to be the happiest day of my life!

But I must tell you that the journey after my baptism was not easy initially. When I prayed the rosary in the quiet of my room every night, a lot of noises and unspeakable thoughts would float into my mind, prompting me to stop many times before I could finish. I also faced many difficulties in the various areas of my life when it used to be a lot more peaceful. Somehow I attributed all that to my lack of faith.

I then started praying more often, asking God for strength to overcome my difficulties and I thank God for pulling me through. It has been almost a year and a half since my baptism. I used to help out in Children's Liturgy for a while but I am now a facilitator at RCIA in the Church of the Holy Cross. I take care of the bookstore there on Sundays too.

Whenever I can, I attend Bible classes at the Singapore Pastoral Institute and listen to talks at Cana - The Catholic Centre to deepen my knowledge of the faith. Well, maybe someday I can do more for the church but for now I strive to live a meaningful life for God and pray for sufficiency of his grace to continue serving him.

WendyWee.jpgWendy Wee was baptised at the Church of the Holy Cross in 2002 when she was 22. Although her journey was not smooth sailing, she made it through baptism and understands better today what faith means.

Wendy (far left in photo) is happily serving with her fellow lectors here at the Church of the Holy Cross today.

I HAD ACTUALLY planned when I was younger, that I would reflect sincerely about religion in the later part of my life, probably when I am in my late 30s or 40s. I knew I would end up being Christian one day but I only intended to be one when my parents have passed on - that's because they are staunch believers of both Buddhism and Taoism, especially my father.

Things changed when I was with my then-boyfriend who was a Catholic. He invited me to attend Mass with him one day in 2000. I was hesitant as I thought to myself that I had more important things to do, having to complete one of my six school projects then! When he said that it would only take one hour of my life, off I went and the first Catholic church I went to, the nearest one from where I live, was the church I was to be baptised in. I never thought that one hour would one day become a staple for the rest of my life!

He brought me to church again the following week and so I followed him dutifully for Mass for about a year, at different churches. The thought of joining RCIA came about during these times. I had been tagging along for Mass, knowing the moves everybody makes, when to stand, kneel, sit and sing, hold hands and even knowing what to say or when to respond to the priest.

But why does nobody clap in appreciation after a priest gives a homily? And why is it called a homily and not a sermon? I had so many questions in my head that I used to whisper them to my boyfriend during mass. He will shush me or say he will tell me later or that he doesn't know.

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In the last quarter of 2001, I finally decided to make that step to join the RCIA at the Church of the Holy Cross. The RCIA Ministry in my parish then seemed pretty messy to me because there were different priests and deacons (Fathers John Bosco, Stephen Yim, Ambrose Vaz, then-Deacon Ignatius Yeo and then-Brother Damien de Wind) who conducted different lessons each week. Each has their own style which takes getting used to. Sometimes, you get a variety of answers when the same questions are asked of different priests… it could be a good thing also as we got to know more during the process.

I never liked the sharing part of the session, always opting to be the last to speak so that the presenter will call it a night when everyone else had done talking and it was to be my turn. But I realised it is only by sharing you will learn from others and be more accepting of their shortcomings and, likewise, they with yours.

My journey was not smooth sailing. It was the encouragement of my boyfriend then and his mother (my godmother) who spurred me on. There were plenty of inner emotional struggles and most importantly, without God's guidance and plenty of prayers, I honestly wouldn't have lasted through the whole RCIA process.

Baptism was probably one of the happiest days of my life. I couldn't really sleep the night before knowing that going through baptism is akin to being born again - a start of a new life, a new me as a Catholic. I was smiling from ear to ear that day and somehow managed to keep that up till the next day. I felt as though I glided through the whole day. Everything seemed lighter and I walked with a bounce in my step.

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I became a Sunday Catholic

However, I became a "Sunday Catholic" for about a year after my Confirmation. My godmother who is with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Anne's Church, is my role model for being the devout Catholic she is and she suggested that I become a lector.

At that point in my life, I was on a spiritual decline. So I thought that maybe joining some church activity will help renew that enthusiasm for wanting to learn more about my faith instead of just dragging myself to Mass every Sunday and be lost in my own thoughts.

I think the influence of the community plays a part in how zealous a Catholic you are. I went downhill spiritually because I didn't know other Catholics and started to lose focus on why we need to go for Mass.

My boyfriend then was the usual Sunday Catholic and in his family; only his mother was involved in a ministry. The people I used to see every week during RCIA disappeared once the baptism was over. So I was not all that passionate in going to church after that. I started to think about why I go through RCIA and finally baptism…

I realised that for me, to believe that the universe was created by a firm, benign Creator is one thing but to believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed and all for the love of us - a love we don't even have to earn! - defies reason.

Living out the Catholic life was, is and will always be a challenge for me. Joining a ministry has certainly helped as I have now made a few firm friends with not only the people from the lector's ministry but those involved in other ministries too. I feel a sense of belonging to a spiritual community. Although I had always found God everywhere, all these certainly helped in forming a deeper awareness that God is found more particularly in the church and in the church community. I am thankful to learn and discover something about my faith everyday and I wish I had more time to do more.

JoyceGan1.jpgJoyce Gan, 26, was baptised in 2004. She is determined that the fire that has been lit will not die out. Here's what she is doing about it.

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Right, Joyce Gan (right in photo) was baptised at Church of the Holy Spirit on Easter 2004. "I felt my soul being torched with my baptism," she said of the event. "That fire gave me vigour I never knew I had and spurred me on to give much more than I thought I could."

I CELEBRATED MY second birthday as a Catholic on Apr 10. I was born through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) at the Church of the Holy Spirit two years ago and to it I returned as a sponsor after my baptism. My celebration this Easter will be filled with thanksgiving, not just for being a Catholic but for still being a passionate one.

God answered my prayer to continue to be "on fire" by giving me the RCIA as fuel for that flame. Being "on fire" doesn't remove the many obstacles that fall a new Catholic's way though. My faith, and that of many converts, is hard-earned.

Many of us come to the RCIA lost and unsure of what it is we may even be searching for. To open ourselves up to strangers requires a lot of trust and courage. To stay on course towards the waters of baptism requires even more effort. The temptations for a catechumen to leave are many and they range from unforeseen problems that crop up in your life to reasons that seem perfectly justifiable to keep you from following through with the RCIA.

Lest I frighten away potential sponsors and would-be Catholics, let me state this - a true convert's faith, because it is hard-earned, will be deeply treasured above many other things in life. And it is well worth the effort. Which is why, for me, there is no way that I will give it up so easily, not before I have done everything I can to hold on to it.

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Reality bites

As a catechumen, I was protected and sheltered. All I saw were the beautiful things about church and the Catholic faith. As a sponsor, I grew a hundred times. I learnt how difficult it is to serve in church without facing politics that exist with any working relationship but my faith

deepened in more ways than I could imagine by giving as much as I could - and to have nothing work out according to plan, feeling lost and helpless only to witness how God puts everything right.

Converts who do not choose to serve may find themselves in a predicament once they are "let out" into the real world where even church-going Catholics can prove to be less than charitable sometimes. Not only are they left to fend for themselves, they may perhaps feel a little disillusioned because the problems come from within church.

However, someone who serves will realise that accepting obstacles allows him to witness how God works through them. If only regular Catholics knew how fearful new Catholics can feel in spite of the fire within them, they would treat them more tenderly and, together, "cradle Catholics" and new converts can work to bring the passion of being a Catholic to new  heights.

Doubting Thomases

If I feel any discouragement, it is more because of sponsors than because of catechumens. Catechumens come to RCIA armed with questions and doubts, which is perfectly reasonable. Some of them question with a need for a better understanding of the faith while others pose their questions as challenges to the religion. Some, like me, just needed to understand the reason for suffering in the world. They aren't the doubting Thomases.

Sponsors who question the need for certain processes in an RCIA journey are. There are many rites and events peppered throughout one RCIA journey, all to deepen a catechumen's faith by giving them avenues to reflect and attest to this Catholic faith. Sponsors are needed to encourage the catechumens to look beyond their fears and doubts rather than to question the significance of it.

The doubting Thomases are also the ones who make careless remarks about the way things work but fail to lend their hands in righting what may be wrong. Often, they do not realise how discouraging their careless remarks can be to people who strive to serve. Preparing for the happenings on a journey is not easy work and it still surprises me how, by and large, such a variety of people can come together and work together with no thought for personal recognition.

How is it we try to make our schedules fit around RCIA, to "sacrifice" our weekend fun and rest to do church work? There is really no big reason to why I serve - it's simply a matter of returning a love that has bestowed me with so many gifts. One of the greatest is peace - a peace that the world cannot give. What, then, can I not give in exchange for this peace?

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Journey of faith

On hindsight, it is so obvious that God had paved a path that led me to him all along. Even though my faith in God had been cemented through a friend's passing away at the age of 15, it took me another seven years, more than two of those spent in weekly Masses, that finally led me to the RCIA.

It really started from the moment I felt a desire to receive Communion so strongly during one Sunday Mass that I actually considered cheating my way into the queue that finally helped me to acknowledge God's soft prompting that it is time I considered the RCIA.

I learnt to trust God on the journey to know that things may get tough but never tough enough to break me if I had God with me. I had also learnt to recognise God's will for me in the last two years. The rule of thumb for me is that, if it is God's will, you will know it.

Last year, several friends of mine noticed CatholicNews needed a writer and because it was several of them who prompted me to, I felt there might be something here in store for me. Up till the day I was confirmed for this position, there were still doubts lingering in my mind. So I checked in with God and I suddenly remembered that I had asked him to let this go through smoothly if it was meant for me. Indeed, this had gone through incredibly smoothly.

What other answer can I have than 'yes'? And as with all of God's plans for me, this turned out to be a wonderful gift too.

My family in Christ

Of course, there are times when I seem to have lost sight of God, and this is when he comes to me in exactly the ways I need him, without me even having a clue as to what I need. Simple, everyday occurrences that don't mean anything to anyone else becomes the exact reassurance that I need at exactly that moment. Often, it comes through my fellow journey-ers on the RCIA. Perhaps herein lies the crux of the magic of this ministry.

We are a community. Having gone through the trials of a journey together, and having cried, sweated and bled together, it is difficult not to be bonded to one another. These fellow journey-ers are friends whom I have not expected to meet or to make, who have grown to be the only family in faith I have.

(continued on page 4)

My parents are Buddhists and they have surprisingly been most supportive in my choice to be a Catholic. But they will never be able to fully comprehend why their daughter serves at church at the expense of her own time and rest. Only this Catholic family I have understands it.

When I am lost, I just have to look around me to be inspired to carry on. To be there to encourage my friends when they are shaken in faith stands as a powerful reminder of why I believe.

Admittedly, there are times when I am pensive about how my entire faith journey has come to be but most times it just cannot get any better. I have found the journey of my life. I know that because of the peace that lingers in me even during my weakest moments and the joy I feel - one that is completely pure.

I wish the parish community understands how our ministry needs their prayers a little better. Sharing our faith is not easy for either sponsors or catechumens, especially when faced with resistance and challenges to our beliefs. Remaining faithful to God while serving is harder still because I find it extremely easy to slip and to do what I think is best, without checking in with God to find out what he thinks.

Ultimately, nurturing new Catholics is not only the RCIA's job but the entire parish's. So I ask for prayers for the Catholics-to-be, that they may grow strong in their faith as the journeys progress and that we may all continue to be faithful to God in service and in our lives. For me, the fire may burn out someday, but it won't be any day I can foresee. Because although the journeys have not been easy, nothing else has been more rewarding than to witness the joy and bliss on the neophytes' faces as they step out of the baptismal font or to experience all the rejuvenation I need from their transformation.

I hold on to the one moment that still brings a lump to my throat each time I think of it. I had helped out with the coordination at last Easter's baptism and it was an extremely stressful period. I remember standing at the back of the pews, watching the new Catholics process in, all dressed in their nice, white outfits when suddenly the exhaustion kicked in. I gripped the pews and told myself to hold on for a few more hours.

Then the priests went around to don the neophytes in their baptismal garments. Right there, right then, in that one moment, my weariness vanished. I broke down and to this day, whenever I find myself faltering, I hold on dearly to that moment when my thought was so startlingly clear and honest, "It is all worth it".

New RCIA journeys at various parishes will begin soon. Invite someone you know to join in the journey, and be a sponsor. I will again be there to accompany those journeying at the Holy Spirit parish from May 18. Come and See!

FaithPng.jpgFaith Png, 34, was baptised in 2003. She recently spent six months in Pattaya, Thailand, as a volunteer teaching English at an orphanage. She tells her story through Daniel Tay.

THROUGHOUT MY JOURNEY during RCIA, I had shared with my spiritual director, Father PaulStaes, CICM, that I wanted to take some time off from work and do something meaningful. I felt prompted after I listened to one of his homilies on the call of Samuel. Every time I met Father Paul in church, he would always say to me, "Faith, you're still in Singapore?"

It was only a year after I got baptised in 2003 that I decided to leave my job as a producer in a video production company, and act on this nagging prompting. Rather than volunteering at any charity organisation, I chose to help the Father Ray Foundation, after seeing an article on it in CatholicNews.

I visited the Foundation's website and found that it was very well-organised and that it had a good programme for volunteers, so I applied to go to Thailand from April to October 2005. I later learnt that I was the first Singaporean to volunteer at the organisation and one of the few Asians that lasted for that long.

During my stay at Pattaya, I helped out at the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and the Home for Street Kids, but the majority of my time was spent taking care of babies and toddlers at the Orphanage, and teaching English at the Redemptorist Vocational School for the Disabled.

The orphanage was started during the Vietnam War when American G.I.s frequented Pattaya as a recreational area. After the American soldiers departed from Pattaya, they left behind many children. Even today, the region continues to have a reputation for (sexual) recreation, and the number of orphans continues to grow.

Before I volunteered, I had no prior experience in taking care of children. I had spent about a year teaching catechism at the Church of the Risen Christ, but that was different from teaching a foreign language to the Thai children, as these children are poor and have little background in the subject.

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FaithPng.jpgRight, Faith Png (centre in photo) at the Redemptorist Vocational School for the disabled in Pattaya, Thailand.

Life at the orphanage The Father Ray Foundation taught us how to change diapers and each of us was given a teacher's manual, and we were sent to Pattaya with just that basic knowledge. Fortunately, the teachers and other volunteers at Pattaya were very helpful and I was able to cope.

In Singapore, babies are afraid of me, and I of them, but at my first visit at the orphanage, toddlers ran up to me asking to be carried, so I obliged. As the children see many people in the orphanage, it is good for them to see familiar faces on a daily basis.

In Thailand, the physically handicapped have very little future. Most of them end up selling lottery tickets by the roadside or begging. The Redemptorist Vocational School equips them with skills and trains them to become electricians, computer programmers and to hold other deskbound jobs.

At any one time, there are about 15-20 volunteers helping at the Foundation, although most of them are Westerners and some are not even Catholics.

The Father Ray Foundation is owned by the Thai Redemptorists, but they do not proselytise, so most of the orphans remain Buddhists. A group of religious sisters do bring the orphans for Mass on Sundays.

About a week before I left Pattaya, a mission team from the Archdiocesan Commission for Missionary Activity (ACMA) came for a retreat as part of their Mission Orientation Programme. I brought them around the place and they asked me many questions about their opportunities to be missionaries here. Some of them were a little disappointed to hear that I did not convert anyone in my six months here, but my reply was that I did not come here to convert souls; I came to share my time and my talent.

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Towards the end of my time in Pattaya, I was roped in to help make a video for Father Ray's memorial celebration. I had made a number of corporate videos in the past, but this time, when the video was presented to a crowd of about 2,000, some members of the audience were so touched that they cried. It was the first time anyone had ever cried after watching a video I made.

Perhaps one of my most memorable encounters was with a person with no hands and a stump where his legs should have been. I am not sure how, but he manages to wheel himself about, and he can grasp a pen with what's left of his arm. But what struck me most deeply was that he was smiling all the time.

Seeing the poor and physically disabled smiling and happy despite their situation really does put things into perspective for me. During my stay there, I met other full-time volunteers, as well as those who have returned repeatedly after going back to their home country. I now know that it is possible to become a life-long volunteer, to do without much material possessions and still be able to make ends meet.

(Faith Png is back in Singapore, working hard to earn enough to return to mission work at the orphanage in May.)

The Father Ray Foundation is the umbrella organisation that manages several social projects in Pattaya, Thailand. Named after Father Ray Brennan, an American Redemporist priest who founded the orphanage in the early 1970s, the organisation is now home to over 750 people of all ages.

More information on the Father Ray Foundation can be found at http://www.fr-ray.org/.

EASTER IS THE greatest feast in the Church. This is the day that Jesus broke the chains of death and rose in triumph from the grave and shares with us the fruits of his victory. As he had said: "I am the Resurrection and the Life ... whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

 

 

In this world, suffering and death constitute a huge challenge to our faith. As we go through life we all experience little deaths.

 

We get a foretaste of death when we encounter failures, sickness and when we live in bitterness, sadness and depression. However, if our faith in the Resurrection is firm we will not be overcome. Crosses are not ends in themselves but are a prelude to the Resurrection.

 

When we live and believe in Christ, even in this world we will experience little resurrections. When we know love, acceptance and forgiveness, when we open our hearts to others and reach out to those in need, we emerge from the tomb.

 

May the splendour of his Resurrection scatter the shadows of earth and enable us to talk in radiant hope towards our eternal home. "As he has risen, so too we will rise."

 

A HAPPY & BLESSED EASTER to all.

 

 

Yours devotedly in Christ,

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At the service of healing, reconciliation and restoration

RGS011.jpgDespite their diversity of ministries, there are only 11 Good Shepherd Sisters in Singapore - the youngest is in her 40s and the oldest is in her 80s; nine are Singaporeans. Where did they come from? Where are they headed?

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The dynamic Good Shepherd Sisters of the Marymount community are involved in a wide range of pastoral ministries to empower the feminine spirit among women in need of healing, all in imitation of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

DECEMBER 1939 SAW the arrival of two Irish Good Shepherd sisters from Colombo (today Sri Lanka). Two other Irish sisters followed a month later. The sisters lodged at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus at Victoria Street while a house for them at 8th Mile, Ponggol Road was being repaired and renovated.

By Feb 1, 1940, the first convent of the Religious of the Good Shepherd Sisters (RGS) was blessed by Bishop A. Devals. Present also were his Vicar General, Mgsr M. Olcomendy, the Infant Jesus Sisters, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Canossian Sisters.

The Good Shepherd Sisters opened their doors to women and girls who were troubled or abused and in need of healing and reconciliation. As the number grew, there was a need to secure larger premises. However the Second World War disrupted their plans and during the Japanese Occupation, the sisters went to Bahau, Malaysia. They returned after the war and stayed in MacPherson Road and Kampong Java Road, eventually moving to Marymount at Thomson Road in the 1950s.

At Marymount, they operated a home for orphans who were mainly post-war children. As there was a need for education, Marymount Convent School was set up. There were a number of local vocations, and the sisters gradually expanded their ministries.

Over the years, as more and more women joined the workforce, many students from Marymount Convent became latchkey children as both parents would be at work. The sisters responded by providing a centre, the Marian Centre, for before and after-school care. By the 1980s it was serving around 80 percent of the student population, around 60 children at that time.

The Good Shepherd sisters continue to respond to the needs of society, always with the mission of reconciliation - in particular they minister to women and children to bring them to a healthier relationship with themselves, their families and society.

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The sisters pray the daily office in Marymount Chapel in the early 1960s.

Apart from Marymount Primary School, the sisters run two kindergartens - Marymount at Thomson Road and the Good Shepherd kindergarten at Nallur Road. They also operate the AHUVA Good Shepherd Children's Home at Marymount Centre which includes the care of children - from 7.30pm to 11.00pm - who otherwise would be alone at night because their parents are out working; many of these children come from single parent homes.

The Good Shepherd Centre at Yishun is a residential centre for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and for migrant workers suffering employer abuse. Rose Villa, at the centre, also takes care of unwed women in pregnancy crisis. The refuge offers a temporary shelter, counselling, and empowerment to its residents.

At present there are 38 residents including children. The sisters also conduct outreach programmes for women at their Nallur Road premises, where counselling sessions are available for women with problems. Stay-in programmes such as Restful Waters, are also held at Nallur Road.

Sister Gerard Fernandez is also actively involved in the Prison Ministry while Sister Elizabeth Lim is involved in the Life Direction Team. The mission of spiritual accompaniment is seen by the sisters as a much needed answer to relationship problems in today's society, which is fast-moving and increasingly impersonal.

Despite their wide range of ministries, there are now only 11 Good Shepherd sisters in Singapore - the youngest is in her 40s and the oldest is in her 80s. Of the 11 sisters, nine are Singaporeans while the other two come from Ireland and the Philippines.

The sisters now work together with many lay collaborators in their different ministries and rely more on networking in their apostolate. At Rose Villa, for example, they concentrate on the residential ministry, leaving areas like adoption to other organisations to take care of. This is unlike the past when the sisters would attend to the different aspects of caring for unwed mothers including adoption options for the baby.

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A desire to reach out to girls and women

RGS021.jpg"Go after the lost sheep without any rest other than the cross, no consolation other than work, no thirst other than for justice." - St. Mary Euphrasia

St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier (1796-1868)

Rose Virginie Pelletier was born on Jul 31, 1796 in Noirmoutier, France. She grew up in the turbulent aftermath of the French Revolution. At the age of 18 she entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge founded by St. John Eudes and was given the name Sister Mary Euphrasia.

She worked tirelessly with girls and women in need of love and guidance. Moved by their loneliness and feelings of rejection, she was filled with a burning desire to reach out to girls and women all over the world. To do this, she founded the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) in 1835.

The mission of the congregation is to show the compassion of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, for the abandoned, the underprivileged and the lost. To St. Mary Euphrasia, one person was more precious than the whole world.

During her lifetime 110 foundations were opened around the globe. She died in Angers, France in 1868 and was declared a saint in 1940. The Good Shepherd sisters continue St. Mary Euphrasia's work of compassion, affirming everyone that each person is precious. Today there are around 5,000 Good Shepherd Sisters serving in 68 countries around the world.

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Called to be shepherds of today

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Right, Sister Gerard Fernandez comforts an elderly person who had supported the sisters in their work during her younger days. Right, Sister Agnes-Claire mingles with her charges at the Good Shepherd Centre in Yishun.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD Sisters take a fourth vow of zeal, which leads them, like Jesus the Good Shepherd, to search for the wounded, the marginalised and broken, especially women and children. Their mission of healing, reconciliation and restoration helps to awaken in the lost and abused a sense of worth and dignity as children of God.

The sisters proclaim their mission as follows:

- To the women and children who are victimised and abused in their own families, we are called to help them rebuild their lives.

- To the teenage girls who are on the fringe of society and at odds with their families, we communicate love, care, support and encouragement; bringing forth reconciliation with self, family and their God.

- To those women and girls who face pregnancy crises, we bring healing, acceptance and hope through the individual, family counselling and group work. We also provide shelter and support.

- To the migrant workers who face loneliness being in a foreign land and those who are abused by their employers, we bring forth friendship, spiritual nourishment and compassion. We provide shelter - a home away from home for those who are abused.

- To those children who lack adult care at home, we create a homely place that is congenial to the continuing formation of the children in their educational needs, physical needs and spiritual formation.

- To those in prison and their families, we bring God's compassion, mercy and hope through counselling and after care services.

- To those seeking for direction and meaning in life, we bring living water to quench their spiritual thirst.

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Shepherding the lost and wounded

RGS04.jpgSister Agnes-Claire Koh shares on her call to be a modern day Shepherd among the broken-hearted.

IT WAS AT a Choice Weekend Experience in the mid-1980s that Agnes-Claire Koh first encountered the Religious of the Good Shepherd. Irish Sister Columba Cannon, one of the founding sisters here, was a speaker during that weekend. They became friends and as she got to know more about the mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters, Agnes-Claire was moved to volunteer at the Marymount Teenage Centre along Thomson Road.

The centre cared for delinquent girls who were beyond parental control. The mission to serve the teenage girls brought meaning to her life; instead of just volunteering her free time to the centre, she eventually went to work full time with the sisters there. Agnes-Claire's flair in administration (she graduated with a degree in Business Administration) proved useful.

She shares, "Most of the girls were primary and secondary school drop-outs. At that time there was no ITE (Institute of Technical Education). My work involved looking for jobs for these girls, as well as organising in-house classes for them." Agnes-Claire then realised that God was calling her to a lifetime commitment with the sisters.

"Deep down I knew that I wanted to do something more but I didn't know what," she discloses. "I had that feeling even in my teens. Only after graduation and after I started work did I find time to attend to that inner voice." She realised that her vocation was being unfolded gradually - from volunteer, to staff member, to religious sister.

"I guess God knew that I wouldn't have become a sister all at once, so he led me to my vocation step by step," she laughs.

When she turned 28 in 1989, she entered the Religious of the Good Shepherd convent with blessings from her parents. She was not the first among their seven children to have chosen the life of a religious. Just two years earlier, her younger brother, Peter, had entered the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM). A CICM brochure left casually at home by Agnes-Claire helped to lead Peter to his missionary vocation.

(continued on page 6)

During her formation years, Agnes-Claire also had opportunities to do mission work. While in Taiwan for her Theological studies, she joined her sisters in their mission to the mountains. It was an experience she found very enriching. "Many young girls from the mountains in Taiwan would fall prey to teenage prostitution in the cities. We did mainly preventive mission work in the mountains, conducting value formation camp, teaching them what city life is all about."

Today Sister Agnes-Claire is the residential manager of the Good Shepherd Centre in Yishun, a centre for abused women and unmarried mothers-to-be. She works with four lay staff, conducting counselling sessions and organising different programmes - sewing, English, computer studies. All the women who stay at the centre are referred there by the police, the Ministry of Manpower and the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Sister Agnes-Claire and a social worker also man the 1800-Mum-To-Be (1800 686 8623) line on Mondays. One of the fulfilment of being a Good Shepherd Sister is "seeing the women grow from being fearful after a traumatic experience to becoming empowered in their own lives, gaining self-confidence and moving on with more belief in themselves," she explains.

Of the challenges she faces, she reveals, "Being small in numbers, I don't feel there are sisters that I can relate with as much as I'd like to as we are all over the place. We do meet but not as often as we want to."

The whole community of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Singapore meets at least once a month and Sister Agnes-Claire cherishes the time spent with them, especially when they cook together. To relax she also enjoys gardening and going out with friends. With fewer sisters, life as a religious is less structured than before and most of the time she finds herself praying alone.

"That's why the inner conviction has to be even stronger, that this is my life (as a religious)," she shares. "The foundation years are very important otherwise each day can just pass by. What makes me persevere is the belief that I'm doing what God wants me to do - serving the people who are really in need, and particularly our stand as Good Shepherd Sisters - to serve the poor, the marginalised, and the voiceless."

Anyone feeling called to the ministry of the Religious of the Good Shepherd as a Sister or a volunteer may contact Sister Agnes-Claire at 6755 6496 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.catholic.org.sg/goodshepherdsisters.

- View the complete list of religious orders in Singapore

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Right (click for full picture), Father Adrian Anthony, rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, crowns the statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the celebration held at the Cathedral on Sat, Mar 25. Inset, the crown for the statue of Our Lady of Fatima is brought to the front of the church by children who represent the three shepherd children to whom Our Lady appeared to in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. The last of the three, Sister Lucia Santos passed away in 2005 on Feb 13, the same day the apparitions took place.

By Joyce Gan

EXPECTANT PARENTS CAN appreciate the beauty of having a life to look forward to more in the coming months especially. A special antenatal course, "Natural Birth, Gentle Birth" will take place once a month, for two to three hours from April to July.

The course is modelled on the premise that birth, motherhood and parenting are based on God's plan for us.  "Natural Birth, Gentle Birth" will attempt to give a deeper and richer understanding on how the woman's body works and why birth happens in a certain way. Questions on why pain is necessary, for example, will be tackled as well.

Mrs Pat Chong, the Childbirth Educator and the one who will be conducting this course is in the last stages of pursuing her Graduate Diploma in Childbirth Education from Birth International, an Australian organisation.

A mother of five - with children from five months to 11 years old - Mrs Chong has attended several births as a support person, occasions that she describes as "always a wonderful experience and always a pleasure!"

"Witnessing a birth always leaves me feeling humbled and awed - by the power of a woman's body in bringing forth life into the world," she said. "What I see and do gives vision and depth to what I feel as a mother, a woman and a Catholic." It is this sense of mission that inspires her to strive towards correcting the misconceptions  of childbirth and to help people learn to trust themselves and in God's design. "[Birth, breastfeeding and even parenting] are becoming more medically managed and fewer women trust their bodies enough to do what it was made to do - birth a baby," Mrs Chong explained.

"What has happened instead is that women and parents are given the subtle message that things will not work well under normal circumstances - that they are not competent to birth naturally. Some 'help' must be given - so labours end up being induced, membranes are ruptured artifi cially, women are routinely monitored in labour and not 'allowed' to labour freely in positions of their choice, etc, and of course pain relief is freely offered instead of steady, compassionate support. So we have learnt to trust the system, but not ourselves. And the same goes for breastfeeding and parenting where we now put our trust in the material, in the tangible and no longer in what we cannot see," she said.

With these aims in mind, Mrs Chong hopes that labour support can one day be "inexpensively and freely available to all women in labour through individual woman-centered midwifery care".

The first four sessions of "Natural Birth, Gentle Birth" will be held at 4pm on Saturdays (Apr 22, May 6, Jun 24 and Jul 1) at 40 Jalan Pemimpin, #04-10C, Singapore 577185. The cost for each couple is $110. For inquiries, please contact Pamela at 9271 3335.  

By Joyce Gan

ON SAT, APR 22, several misconceptions about Christian meditation will be cleared up at the "Christian Meditation & Fullness of Life" workshop. One is that meditation is not solely Oriental. The other is that the average Singaporean can still learn to incorporate this practice into their hectic lifestyles. Mr Peter Ng stands as a good testimony.

This Singapore national co-ordinator for the World Community for Christian Meditation manages his time between meditation and his role as Managing Director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation Pte Ltd (GIC) for Public Markets. Mr Ng, whose wife, Patricia, passed away last year from cancer, will, at the workshop, share how his meditation practice has helped him to "grow spiritually, be a more effective manager and live life more joyfully and meaningfully, especially in times of crisis".

Participants will learn how to meditate and how to deal with the practical challenges of persevering in the discipline. "Most people feel they are too busy, or too distracted, to meditate. I, too, felt that way when I started 18 years ago," Mr Ng confessed, which is why he hopes to encourage the participants not to give up. There will also be opportunities to listen, via DVDs, to teachers of contemplative prayers, such as Fathers John Main, Thomas Keating and Laurence Freeman who taught Mr Ng himself.

Mr Ng wants to address the mistaken association of meditation with only Oriental religions. In fact, meditation is a universal spiritual practice and Christianity too, has a rich and long tradition of contemplative prayer, he explained. Mr Ng thinks that the misunderstandings arise because most Christian prayers are verbal ones.

However, there is contemplative prayer as well in all great religions, he said. "The difference is our faith in Jesus," he emphasised.

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"Christian meditation takes us beyond words, thoughts and images into silence, stillness and simplicity, [but] in a Christian community, nurtured by Christian scripture and Christian worship," he added. "The whole idea is to give all our attention to [Christ]," he continued. "We empty ourselves of our ego so we can be filled with the love of Christ because quite often, it is our preoccupation with ourselves that get in the way of us coming closer to God."

Mr Ng himself had stumbled upon meditation when he and his wife found a book "The Light Within" by Father Freeman in the Katong Catholic Book Centre when they were searching for more "spiritual depth", he recalled. Father Freeman, who was a student to the Benedictine monk who discovered the tradition of Christian meditation, John Main himself, eventually became Mr Ng's teacher in the practice after the couple sought him out. "And now, 18 years have gone by and I am still meditating," he laughed.

Today, Mr Ng meditates twice a day, every morning and evening for about 25 minutes. "These two periods are the anchors of my life," he claimed. "If you are serious about your spiritual life and your relationship with God, you have got to make time for it. My meditation is my appointment with God!" Mr Ng expressed.

He believes that many Christians at the work place take their spiritual life seriously, judging from the large turnout at weekday lunchtime masses organised by the Catholic Prayer Society. He was also impressed by the several hundred participants at last November's Christ@Work conference that explored different ways to manifest Christ at the workplace.

Mr Ng plans to start a weekly meditation group in the Central Business District to help newcomers to persevere in the discipline. Those interested may register for "Christian Meditation & Fullness of Life" to be held on Sat, Apr 22 from 9am-5pm at the Canossian Spirituality Centre by contacting Daulet at 6737 6279 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Andrea Kang

LukeFong01.jpgTHE CHURCH OF Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS) celebrated her sixth monthly youth mass on Sat, Mar 25 with a tinge of sombreness and quiet contemplation.

In place of the usual high energy gathering hymns sung before mass, drama ministry Revelation Generation presented an audio skit about a troubled teenager who turns to God for answers and assurance in her need for love. Unable to communicate with her parents, she questions their love for her and in turn questions God's love for her. She asks, "God, do you love me?" a question that had many thinking as they sat in quiet reflection.

The answer, as the youths later realised, was in that Sunday's gospel reading. For the youths present who, like the troubled teen in the skit, were sceptical or unsure of God's love, Father Luke Fong's homily on God's gift of love opened some eyes, touched more hearts, and reminded others of God's immense love for them.

Gregory Leong, 17, who had attended five out of the six youth masses, said, "I took away two things from the homily: One, we love because God loves us, not because we want to gain God's love. And two, no matter how good we are, we do not deserve heaven".

As a closing to the homily, the youths were to repeat the verse Jn 3:16 after Father Luke, except they were to substitute the words, "the world" and "everyone" with their own names. (For God so loved [your name] that he gave his only Son, so that [your name] might not perish but might have eternal life.)

"The moment I said my name, my heart skipped a beat, because this is me, me who is so rotten. It really drove in the message of Lent. That Jesus died for me. He did everything for me. It's time I start behaving myself now," said Sarah Siow, 23.

Gregory Loo, 22, who came in response to a friend's invitation, said, "The homily acted as an affirmation of what we already know, not so much as bringing something new. It was a reminder that God is a loving God. He cares, no matter what we have done. He loves us for who we are".

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LukeFong01.jpgThe idea of having a monthly youth mass at OLPS was proposed by parish priest, Father Gregoire Van Giang, MEP. He wanted a place where priests could, directly and frequently, speak to youths during their homilies. This is carried out in a creative and interactive manner which engages the youths and keeps them attentive.

Another purpose of the youth mass is for the youths to take ownership of the mass through the various ministries usually carried out by adults. Father Gregoire believes that this is the best way youths can learn to appreciate the mass and the Eucharist in a vibrant yet solemn manner.

OLPS youth coordinator Susan Andrews says that she has seen a huge change in the youths of the parish. "I get kids calling me, asking if they could help in the planning or execution. This is so different from when we first started. I used to have to beg people [to help]."

The youth mass has also brought about a synergy between the eight youth ministries in OLPS. "All the members now know each other. Previously, each ministry used to be a standalone," said Susan. "The youths see this as an opportunity to come together and give thanks to the community." Susan adds that all these would not have been possible without the support of the priests, parents and especially the youths. "We have been very blessed."

The next youth mass takes place on Apr 22, 8pm at OLPS.

By Joyce Gan

StAnt01.jpg

ON SAT, MAR 25, the Church of St. Anthony parishioners bowled at Orchid Country Club to raise funds for the renovation of their basement and worked towards achieving the Parish Pastoral Council's focus for 2006 - to strengthen family bonds within the parish, all in one morning.

This was organised by the Wardens Ministry. An estimated amount of $450,000 is needed to convert what used to be the car park into a multi-purpose hall. There were a total of 140 participants, from as young as six to as elderly as 65. The groups mostly comprised family members and ministry members.

Grace Lee, who sings at the 9.15am "Shepherd's Voice" choir on Sundays said that signing up for the tournament was a "spontaneous act that [Shepherd's Voice] wanted to do" and that was why they decided to "sign up in force". Her fellow choir member, James Tan, had a simple reason for signing up for this tournament - "I support it because it's our church... our parish," he stated.

Joanna Tan had signed up initially just for the fun of it. However, she confessed that because she had not bowled for a long time, she started to practise three times a week in preparation. Her efforts paid off as she emerged top female bowler. "I thank the Lord that it was a good game," she said.

Although the tournament was organised to raise funds, Richelle Hogan, leader of the organising committee, felt that more was achieved than just fundraising. She shared that "the team felt that the whole event was a fruitful one as there was so much bonding among our bowlers."

There are various activities organised around the parish for this cause, including a walkathon, sales of tiles to be put up on the renovated walls, sales of t-shirts, food and other items, a music concert, and a sponsoring of electrical equipment for the new hall. To date, about $250,000 has been raised. The Wardens Ministry contributed their share of $4,620 after paying off for the expenses incurred.

In a Celebration Of Life seminar organised by the Family Life Society, Andrea Kang explores the question of her choice to be a Catholic and ponders the meaning of life.

COL01.jpgEVER QUESTIONED YOURSELF, "Why am I a Catholic"? Amidst the wide variety of religions in the world and the 28,000 Protestant denominations, "Why did I choose the Catholic faith?" Or how about sitting in the bus wondering, "What is the meaning of life?" and "What is my ultimate destiny"?

If your answer to the first question is "because Catholicism is the true religion", you have proved that you understand the origins of your faith. The answer to the second question, however, may not sit very well with some.

It may even seem absurd or mind-boggling. But it is nevertheless true. We are all put on earth to love as God loves: the free, total, faithful and fruitful giving of oneself to another. And that our ultimate destiny is to be with God in heaven as his "wife": to share in the Trinitarian love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This message found in the "Theology of the Body", is Pope John Paul II's biblical reflection on our embodiment, sexual morality, love, marriage and the meaning of life.

The two truths above were the main enlightenment for the participants at the Celebration Of Life seminar held Mar 17-19 at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre (CAEC). The seminar organised by Family Life Society (FLS) was held because they saw a need to help Catholics understand that the Catholic Church is the true church.

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Through the sharing among participants, it was evident that many adult Catholics these days are simply going-with-the- flow, unsure why they have stayed in the faith. Among those present, some said that they were raised a Catholic and chose to stay in the faith because they believe their parents chose the best faith for them while others were from Catholic schools and have gotten comfortable with the customs and teachings.

The main issue discussed by Kelvin Chia, a speaker on apologetics as well as a fulltime litigation lawyer, was the tradition of apostolic succession. Using this belief as an example, Mr Chia explained how the Catholic Church understands and transmits the Word of God using its three pillars: Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. Catholics believe that God sent Jesus on his mission and that Jesus transmitted his mission to the Apostles, who in turn transmitted it to their successors, the Bishops of the Catholic Church.

Most traditions of the Catholic Church, like this one,  Mr Chia said, have scripture to support its beliefs. Mt 28:18-20 says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time".

In the case of differing interpretations, the Magisterium steps in to clear all doubts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: "the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God … has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ" (CCC 85). With the existence of the Church's Magisterium, the Church can teach with one authentic and authoritative voice. This ensures that all Catholics, regardless of their geographic location, are taught the same faith and morals. This makes Catholicism the true faith.

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Another reason for the seminar was to address misconceptions about sex and sexuality. Many Catholics today see sex as "unholy" and are uncomfortable with religious emphasis on the body. But what they don't realise is that sex and sexuality is fundamental to the very meaning of life, as many of the participants later came to understand.

Having attended a similar talk a year ago, Wary, 30, and Sopia, 26, were back to increase their understanding of this theology. They said that this is a powerful way of educating the youth on doing the right thing.

With the help of a video presentation by Christopher West, a research fellow and faculty member of Theology of the Body Institute, Andrew Kong, who is senior executive at FLS, introduced concepts such as "naked without shame", "nuptial meaning of the body", and "marriage of the lamb".

The key to understanding  God's original plan for man and woman, according to John Paul II, is in "nakedness". He said that Adam and Eve gazed at each other's nakedness but felt no shame or embarrassment, only wonder and awe at the mystery of God's love. This nakedness, John Paul II said, reveals the "nuptial meaning of the body" which is the body's "capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift and by-means-of-this-gift-fulfils the very meaning of his being and existence" (The Theology of the Body, Pg 63).

"There is no meaning in solitude," said Wary. "Only when you give yourself [in marriage] then will you find yourself."

As the meaning of one's life is fulfilled in the union of two, so is one's destiny. The Theology of the Body explains that God wants to live in intimate communion with us for all eternity. This, said John Paul II, is the "marriage of the lamb": the intimacy we will one day share with God when we see God face to face. Marriage and sex, he said, is just a foretaste of that heavenly intimacy.

Despite the overload of information, participants were thankful for the enlightenment. After their long and tedious search, many have found the truth of their meaning in life through this seminar.

For one individual, Anton, 27, who came as a Protestant wanting to know more about the Catholic faith, left with many doubts cleared. "I am very glad I came," he said. â– 

I AM GLAD that our monthly contribution to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is properly spent on the poor and our deprived brothers/sisters (CN, Mar 5). Well done to OLPS's SSVP members and also to our parish priest!

    Thomas Tan

FATHER HENRY SIEW, thank you for your articles. If only I had (the opportunity) to read them much earlier, then maybe my marriage might not have deteriorated with no flames left. I am at a crossroads currently. But your articles have enlightened me in some ways.

    Jennifer

CONGRATULATIONS ON THE CatholicNews' recent supplement "Deus Caritas Est" ("God is love"). You have presented Benedict XVI's first encyclical in a unique manner, making it appealing to "the Catholic on the street."

The pages peppered with coloured photos make me want to read on. We have mailed the supplement to friends overseas who have asked for a copy.

    Jacqueline Webb

WHEN IN SINGAPORE recently, Dr Victor Wee gave me a copy of your printing of Pope Benedict's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est". It is a splendid presentation; I congratulate you. Could you let me have a few more copies? I would like to share them with some friends.

    Father Paul Carey

    Carlisle North WA 6101

I AM HAPPY and thank God for giving us a new church at Pasir Ris ("Church Of Divine Mercy" - CN, Mar 19). The draft design and the proposed floor plan of the church shows that much attention has been given to aesthetics.

It appears that in the past there was no body in the Archdiocese of Singapore to oversee and ensure strict adherence to rules with regards to the proper placements of dignified furniture in the sanctuary, especially the tabernacle which is to be situated in a most worthy place with the greatest honour.

As a result, in many new and renovated churches the tabernacle occupies a less prominent place than the presider's chair. Jesus appears to have been hidden in a corner in his very own home.

Churches vary greatly not only in architectural designs but also in distracting add-ons. It is hoped that we now have a body charged with the responsibility of ensuring that no deviations in norms and standards are allowed when building the new church at Pasir Ris.

    Nelson Quah

 

I REFER TO the Vatican City news report, "Number of priests rises slightly" (CN, Mar 5). It gave data on church population, priests and seminarians for 2004. The statistics given for Asia and Africa are encouraging.

In order that we can better relate with the general statistics provided for Asia it would be good if the relevant authorities could give breakdown figures for the Archdiocese of Singapore and all the dioceses of Malaysia including Brunei.

    Nelson Quah

I HAVE OFTEN come across individuals who come up to me and tell me they have not eaten or drunk anything for the day and hope that I will be kind enough to spare them some cash. It is also common for individuals to want to borrow my mobile phone to make an emergency call.

In the first case, I will help by giving them some cash; in the second, I will give them coins instead of lending them my mobile phone. I will politely decline those individuals who are young and able-bodied on the assumption that they might be using the cash to pay for their drugs or alcohol.

However, I'm always pricked by a guilty conscience whenever I decline someone in need. Is it against our Christian beliefs to exercise prudence when giving alms? Or should we just give alms to every individual who comes up to us and begs for money or requests the use of our mobile phone?

    Joshua Ang

FATHER PAUL PANG praised the good work of Catholic institutions in helping the poor in "A reflection for Lent" (CN, Mar 19). But he also posed this question, "Do we, for instance, pay our employees a fair and adequate wage?" He added, "After all, people who work full-time for the church also have families to support". What the latter sentence implies is clear.

As a follow up to what Father Paul Pang had said, I am reminded of another group of church workers who put in long odd hours to help at daily Masses, baptisms, first Holy Communions, confirmations, weddings, funerals and other functions.

They are the church sacristans who perform dedicated yeoman service. But as sacristans are part of the lay ministry, they could not be compared to full-time employees like the clerical staff. However, taking into account their many duties, some of which do not follow a routine, would they be eligible for a remuneration if they haven't got one?

Since most sacristans are retirees, a just allowance given to them would help them with expenses and encourage those who live farther away from the church to help out. Lest I'd be misunderstood, I'm not a sacristan.

    Sebastian Teo

 

Taoist.jpgSINGAPORE - Catholics visited the San Qing Gong Temple on Mar 12 for the Taoist Day of Fellowship as part of a three-day celebration for Taoist Day from Mar 11-13.

"Out of all the religions in Singapore, Taoism is the one that I am most unfamiliar with," said Juliana Tay, explaining why she had come for the day of fellowship.

Each religion that is represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) is given a day of fellowship to share their religion with members of the other religions.

"I have a greater appreciation of their culture and traditions," commented Peter Thien, 44, who said that he found similar teachings between Taoism and Catholicism. Mr Thien said that his faith formation in the Diploma for Adult Faith Formation (DAFF) course conducted by theSingapore Pastoral Institute had taught him "a lot about God" in the Catholic faith, and now he is learning "to appreciate God in other faiths".

Jolene Toh, 30, had come to learn more about the Taoist religion in order to "understand and relate to friends better, and know how to respect their religion." "I hope that such fi eld trips can be organised for youth groups," she added.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia had, in a celebration of the 40th anniversary of "Nostra Aetate" (the church's declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions) last year, called for all Catholics to be more open to engaging in dialogue with members of other religions.

In response to the archbishop's encouragement, a network of resource persons to support and promote IRO activities is being developed.

Top, interested Catholic participants listen attentively to the explanation of Taoism's history by the master of the San Qing Gong Temple.

HighPoint.jpgSINGAPORE - The road to recovery for many ex-drug offenders upon release from the drug rehabilitation centres is often long and ardous. Most of them find it difficult to break free from the bondage of drugs or their old lifestyles after their release from prisons.

Pastor Don Wong, an ex-drug offender himself, was driven by the desire to reach out and help those like him after God touched and transformed his life in 1993. In 1995, he pioneered the setting up of HighPoint Halfway House as a non-profit voluntary organisation, dedicated to help ex-offenders and recovering drug addicts rebuild their lives, reconcile with their families and re-integrate into society.

The halfway house provides not only food and accommodation for its residents, but also counselling, work therapy and career mapping services. Residents undergo a one-year residential programme which uses a five-prong approach of spiritual growth, work therapy, work skills training, counselling and reconciliation with family members.

Upon completion of the programme, they can choose to remain at the halfway house and take on assigned jobs in HighPoint's enterprises or leave to seek employment outside. HighPoint presently runs five business units, namely office/house removal, car polishing, maintenance services, used goods trading and Goshen restaurant.

Through these businesses, it is able to engage its residents in work therapy and also provide employment for them and other ex-offenders.

Top, Residents of the halfway house work at moving furniture for a client. For this and other services that the halfway house provides, call tel: 6440 2444 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. For more information visit www.highpoint.org.sg

FJN.jpgPrayer, penance and charity. Friar Joseph Nasanathan, ofm, explains that the church reminds us to observe these practices every year for a good reason.

AT ASH WEDNESDAY we begin the journey of Lent, a journey each year when we, through the imposition of ashes, are called to commit ourselves and examine our discipleship to the Lord.

This discipleship, committed at baptism, is to walk the road (the Way of the Cross) to paradise (living in the Kingdom of God now and forever). It is for this reason that Lent leads us to Easter - the struggle and pain of the cross (the pain of love) leads us to glory in the resurrection (life-giving and life fulfilling).

At Lent, we are called by the church to examine the three areas of prayer, penance and charity. Why these areas? These three areas are the pillars for true discipleship with the Lord. Like a relationship with someone we deeply love, unless there is constant communication (prayer), self sacrifice for the person we love (penance) and giving of our gifts/talents and time (charity) to the person we love, there can be no authentic relationship.

We know these are the qualities necessary for a healthy, life-giving, loving and committed relationship (Christian or not). We also know it can be demanding and sometimes a real struggle because of our human weaknesses, yet we strive to live this because we truly love the person or the people.

Now you know why deeply committed couples or families often sit together and talk things over if they are drifting from these realities of love. This is also the reason why at Lent, every year, we are asked the same questions and called to make a serious commitment to examine ourselves, "because we love our Lord dearly and truly". Let us examine these three areas: prayer, penance and charity.

The scriptural text for these comes from the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading taken from Mt 6:1-18. Each year the church uses this same text to remind us of the universal call for examination as individual members of its body the church. So the call to examine ourselves is both personal and communal.

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Prayer

During Lent the church encourages its faithful to make that special effort to spend quality time in prayer as individuals, family and as a community. The faithful are encouraged to do the holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

Mt 6:6 asked of us to pray "in the private space between you and God and your Father who see all that is done in such quality time will reward you". Personal prayers can also be done at home in the private space of our room. Such quality time in prayer during Lent strengthens our desire for prayer as a way of Christian life, as communication is for a healthy relationship.

The church also encourages the prayer of the Stations of the Cross (meditation on the way of the Cross, to help us in our struggle on the way of our own cross). We can do this prayer individually or as a family at any time or day of the week; either in the home or work place, etc. The church usually does this prayer as community on a Friday.

Some people make a special effort to go for the weekday Masses during Lent. Most importantly ask yourself what quality prayer time you would like to give the Lord this Lent because you love him and want to be with him.

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Penance

Christian penance helps us to understand the richness of love. Love without sacrifice is not truly love because true love is sacrificial in nature. Ask any parents how they love their children and they will share without any doubt how much they need to make sacrifices for their children because they love them. The same goes for couples who are deeply in love.

Without willingness to make sacrifices for each other there can be no true and authentic love shared. Lent challenges us to examine the Christian sacrifice we make because we love the Lord dearly and deeply. The church calls us to make a communal fast (only twice a year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) as penance to feel the pangs of hunger to identify with the millions who go hungry every day.

Fast and give the money for your food to some of these hungry mouths that suffer everyday. During Lent some try to fast every Friday on a personal intention, others might do it other days during the week. Penance is not just about food, whether fasting or abstinence from meat. It is a call to sacrifice anything that deprive us of things that we like most or are addicted to for the love of God and his people.

Sometimes these Lenten penances can be reflected within the family. Children make a special effort to do things around the home for the love of their maid or parents. Parents make a special effort to be with their children, sacrificing their leisure. I know of people who make a special effort to stop smoking during Lent because they love God's people and the planet and do not want to contribute to the already damaging pollution.

Pray and ask yourself honestly what sacrifice you would like to make this Lent because you love God and his people.

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Charity

Christian charity is giving what we have received from the generosity of our God. Christian charity is practising good stewardship of what we know and acknowledging that everything I have belongs to God: my health, my time, my possessions, my savings, my talents, my leisure, etc.

In Mt 6:1-4, Jesus says your almsgiving must be done in such a way that it does not say you are giving but you are sharing what belongs to God that is in your possession with those you are asked by God in Christian conscience to give to. Christian charity develops in us a sense of detachment from what I own or what belongs to me to a sense of attachment to what I love most, God and my family and his people. During Lent the church invites us to participate in charity projects that help us develop this sense of detachment by generously giving to those in need.

Last weekend the Catholic Church made its appeal for the needy under the care of the Catholic Welfare Society. The charity envelops were given out at all Masses. Let us give until it hurts. I remember a parishioner who called me last year at Lent to offer some food to the poor. When they were brought to me I realised the canned food were all past their expiry dates. This is not giving, this is getting rid of things we don't want! It is also an insult to the poor and to God.

Give whatever money, things, and food, etc, out of love for God's people and feel the pain of detachment and the joy of attachment to God, your family and God's people. Ask yourself this Lent what you would like to give away to develop this sense of love for God and his people?

Finally all these three areas that the church calls us to examine during Lent develop in us a sense of change in our mind, heart and attitude towards God and others. This is what we call conversion. Every Lent brings us this conversion that leads us to grow deeper in our love for God and his people.

Now you see why we need to look again at these questions every year; it is because we want to grow deeper in our discipleship with the Risen Lord.

Crossroads01.jpgOver 700 mostly young people attend emotionally charged Crossroads Rally.

SINGAPORE - The youths from the parishes in the Serangoon District held a Crossroads Rally at the St. Joseph's Institution Performing Arts Centre on Mar 11 with the goal of spreading the message of Christ to those who do not yet know him.

The youths from the parishes in the Serangoon District held a Crossroads Rally at the St. Joseph's Institution Performing Arts Centre on Mar 11 with the goal of spreading the message of Christ to those who do not yet know him.

Through a drama skit based on the lives of a former party girl, a self-proclaimed "ah beng" and an ex-butch (slang for a lesbian who exhibits stereotypically masculine traits or appearance), the cast explored real issues faced by the youth of today, and offers hope for a change in the way they live.

The three youths, whose lives the drama was based on, shared the testimonies of their conversion and how each of them came to know Christ.

Juliana, who lost her father at the age of 18 and found herself thrown into the world of adulthood, was on the verge of breakdown when a friend introduced her to the Youth in the Spirit Seminar where she found Christ.

Leonard, who went through heartbreak when his first girlfriend broke up with him, had lost his faith in God but rediscovered Christ in a personal revelation experienced during a charismatic prayer meet.

Debra, who had a girlfriend from the same school for 16 months, experienced the love of God through her parents during her Confirmation camp which changed her life.

Top, emotionally charged youths give glory and praise to Jesus.

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The evening accompanied by song and dance climaxed with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as the majority of the 700 people present, including several religious sisters, priests and seminarians, knelt in worship and adoration.

Justin Joseph, 18, is a youth facilitator in his parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He came for the rally because some of his friends were in the production team. He was particularly touched by Leonard's story, because "I'm like him", he said.

Michael Wee, 15, decided to find out more about the rally and attended it "after a friend made a passing comment about it". He found it "heartfelt" as he "could relate to certain elements of the testimonies."

Cheryl Tan, 16, came to know of the Crossroads Rally when the publicity team promoted it at her parish of St. Anne's Church. She said she was "glad that they brought in real life elements".

CatholicNews also spoke to some of the seminarians present. Surain Durai Raj, a second-year theology seminarian from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, explained that they had been working with youth from some parishes that were preparing for this rally, and had been invited to come for it.

"[The rally] was very good because it talks about the present context of youth who are about to make important decisions in life," he told CatholicNews. "The rally emphasises that at the crossroads [of life], Jesus is there, and that it is better to make decisions with Jesus." He added that the rally "wasn't talking about things in the air" and that he and his fellow seminarians could "see concretely the problems that youths face in daily life." Surain hopes that this experience would help him to minister better to the youth.

Crossroads02.jpgAlex Chua, 19, said, "The rally was emotionally charged and the three testimonies are very real," he said. "One of them is happening to me."

Right, in the skit, 'Leonard' sits at the back row of the charismatic prayer meet, resentful towards God's seeming abandonment of him. He later encountered Jesus in a life-changing experience.

CWS01.jpgArchbishop Nicholas Chia is President of Catholic Welfare Services (CWS), the charity arm of the Catholic community in Singapore. In his message for Charities Week, the archbishop explains what CWS does and how Catholics and others of good will can contribute to charitable causes and why they should do it, especially this Lent.

CATHOLIC WELFARE SERVICES, each year, would appeal for donations during the season of Lent through Catholic churches, Catholic schools and the general public, and the funds collected would be distributed to the several charitable organisations under its auspices.

In the early days, most of the money collected was used for addressing the issues of poverty. As our society advances and becomes more sophisticated, CWS has evolved to take on more pro-active roles.

Though we are living in a relatively affluent country, there are still many who are living at the bottom income strata. Our society is facing the challenge of a widening income gap between the rich and the poor. Structural unemployment has also hit many of the low-skill, low- income workers.

Offering these people financial assistance is just a short-term measure. We need to help these families, especially those with children, to get out of the poverty cycle. With the population ageing, care for the chronic-sick elderly will be a big burden for many families. Nursing care will continue to be in demand. We also need to provide more innovative programmes to enable more elderly people to live a healthy and independent life.

CWS will continue to focus its resources for the needy elderly and their families. Families today are facing multi-faceted challenges. Heavy demand from the workplace, the need for personal lifelong learning and home responsibilities have challenged the families with strains and stresses. As a result, we are seeing increasing trends in divorce, family violence, and at-risk children. Counselling and family education should go hand-in-hand to tackle the delicate issue of dysfunctional families.

CWS is also mindful of the needs of the vulnerable groups in our society. These include workers who are abused, and victimised family members of people inflicted with AIDS. Their voices are not heard, and their needs are usually not attended to. These are the neglected people whom we should shower with the love of God.

In his message for Lent 2006, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI uses this Gospel text as the theme for his message: "Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity." (Mt 9:36) Certainly CWS can do and should do more in the area of demonstrating the love and social justice of the church.

(continued on page 2)

Steps taken to improve governance

Recently there has been wide publicity on the questionable state of management of certain local charities. We should learn from this episode and move towards better governance and financial management of the charity fund. CWS has been taking incremental steps in such improvement. A common Management Committee has been formed to oversee the running of the three nursing homes under CWS. The CWS restructuring exercise is ongoing and it will seek feedback from the Catholic community.

While CWS strives to improve on charity management, let us not forget the essence of charity, that is, compassion and love.

The essence of charity

The good tradition of charity is a result of our willingness to demonstrate the selfless love of God in a concrete way.

Remember how Jesus praised the poor widow as she gave of her all? "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood." (Lk 21:3,4)

I am heartened to note that parishes, Religious Congregations and Catholic schools have always given generous support to CWS. I hope you will do the same this year. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI also says, "We must help others find God in the merciful face of Christ". Therefore, money is not, and should not be the only "donation" that we do. I encourage more of you to consider "donating" your time and talent in various areas of charitable work.

Catholic Welfare Services welcomes all parishioners to volunteer your service at the respective charitable organisations. The true spirit and ethos of charity will take shape when we continue to cultivate the culture of volunteerism in our Catholic community.

During this Lenten period, as we pause and remember the sacrificial love of Jesus, may we also be moved by his call for unconditional love. Let us do our part in loving and caring for the poor and needy.

May God bless you always for your kind generosity.

(continued on page 3)

CWS Executive Committee

CWS02.jpgPresident: Archbishop Nicholas Chia

Vice-President: Msgr Eugene Vaz

Chairman: Br. Emmanuel Gaudette, SG

Hon. Treasurer: Br. Dominic Kiong, SG

Hon. Secretary/Director: Mr James Chew

Members:

Msgr Francis Lau

Sr. Susan Chia, RGS

Sr. Anne Tan, FDCC

Sr. Maria Lau, IJ

Sr. Assunta Leong, FMM

Msgr Francis Lau

Sr. Susan Chia, RGS

Sr. Anne Tan, FDCC

Sr. Maria Lau, IJ

Sr. Assunta Leong, FMM

(continued on page 4)

CWS Financials (for the year ending March 31, 2005)

INCOME

CHARITIES WEEK CAMPAIGN 2004*

 1,943,364

ANONYMOUS DONATIONS 119,280
NCSS CENTRAL FUND 1,550,584
NON-TAX DONATIONS 19,705
OTHER INCOME 470,789
   
TOTAL INCOME 4,103,725

GRANTS

GIFT OF LOVE HOME

19,398

ST. VINCENT HOME 126,758
ST. JOSEPH'S HOME 521,100
VILLA FRANCIS HOME FOR THE AGED 202,208
GOOD SHEPHERD CENTRE 3,957
ST. THERESA'S HOME 706,423
MORNING STAR COMMUNITY SERVICES 100,000
FAMILY LIFE SOCIETY 200,000
SOCIAL SERVICES PROGRAMMES 84,916
HIV SERVICES PROGRAMMES 100,000
MP FAMILY SERVICE CENTRE 300,000
MPFSC-GOOD LIFE @ SOUTH EAST 50,000
CYBER COUNSELLING 80,000
RELIEF FOOD PROGRAMME 149,709
SCHOLARSHIP AID 107,978
PRISON SERVICES 16,503
MEDICINES FOR THE NEEDY 4,573
POVERELLO TEEN CENTRE 159,546
EMERGENCY RELIEF & SAMARITAN AID 24,439
WELFARE & EDUCATION GRANTS 208,606
SPECIAL PROJECTS 60,135
   

TOTAL GRANTS

3,226,254

OVERHEADS

342,699

SURPLUS

534,771

INCOME FROM CHARITIES WEEK 2004*

CHURCH OF OLPS $175,672
CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS $174,462
CHURCH OF ST. IGNATIUS $155,128
CHURCH OF THE HOLY FAMILY $129,675
CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT $122,032

CHURCH OF THE IHM

$96,234
CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY $89,983
CHURCH OF ST. TERESA $88,634
BLESSED SACRAMENT CHURCH $74,198
CHURCH OF CHRIST THE KING $59,467

CHURCH OF THE RISEN CHRIST

$59,167
CHURCH OF OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE $55,839

CHURCH OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL

$54,735
CHURCH OF ST. FRANCIS XAVIER $51,373
CHURCH OF ST. BERNADETTE $48,187
CHURCH OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI $45,725
CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY OF THE BVM $41,687
CHURCH OF ST. MARY OF THE ANGELS $37,083
ST. ANNE'S CHURCH $35,822
CHURCH OF THE SACRED HEART $35,505
CHURCH OF OUR LADY STAR OF THE SEA $29,116
ST. JOSEPH'S CHURCH (VICTORIA STREET) $25,798
NOVENA CHURCH $24,453
CHURCH OF ST. JOSEPH (BUKIT TIMAH) $22,787
CHURCH OF ST. MICHAEL $21,436
CHURCH OF ST. ANTHONY $16,781
CHURCH OF ST. STEPHEN $11,182
CHURCH OF STS. PETER & PAUL $8,716
CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES $8,423
FRANCOPHONE CATHOLIC COMMUNITY $6,900
CATHEDRAL OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD $2,750

Catholic Welfare Services received a total of $4,103,725 for the year ending Mar 31, 2005. This includes donations of $1,808,450 from parishes (see list below) and $2,500 from the Carmelite Monastery and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood. Catholic schools donated $107,019 of which the top donors were CHIJ-Toa Payoh Secondary with $12,363 and Maris Stella High School with $11,162.

$1,550,584 came from tax-empted donations from the public, the receipts of which were issued by the National Council of Social Services. The rest of the income came from rental, interest from deposits, and investment income. CWS incurred total overheads $342,699. No marketing expense was incurred.

After funding projects, giving welfare and educational grants, and other special projects (see list) there was a surplus of $534,771 which was transferred to reserves. The accounts are audited.

(continued on page 5)

CWS Funded Agencies

CWS funds nine agencies in Singapore. They are:

St. Joseph's Home & Hospice

921 Jurong Road

Website: www.stjh.org.sg

921 Jurong RoadWebsite:

St. Joseph's Home was set up by CWS in 1978 to provide shelter, care, and love for the aged and destitute, regardless of race or religion. The Canossian sisters conduct the day-to-day running of the Home. In 1985, the first in-patient hospice care in Singapore was set up to cater to the needs of those with advanced terminal illnesses.

Villa Francis Home for the Aged

9 Mandai Estate

Website: www.villafrancis.com

It provides holistic nursing and spiritual care to help residents back to health or to provide the "best home" away from home.

St. Theresa's Home

49 Upper Thomson Road

Website: www.sainttheresahome.org

Established in 1935 and managed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Theresa's Home came under the management of CWS in 2003. Pastoral care for the residents is now provided by the Brothers of Mercy and the Infant Jesus Sisters. It is now a nursing home which provides a maximum  number of 200 residents an environment of peace and tranquillity to help them recuperate from their illnesses and physical disabilities.

Good Life @ South East

Blk 6 Marine Terrace, #01-206

Website: www.mpfsc.org.sg

Blk 6 Marine Terrace, #01-206Website:

It is jointly organised by CWS, South East Community Development Council, and Marine Parade Citizens' Consultative Committee. The centre adopts a holistic approach in promoting the concept of productive ageing and focuses on the preventative and developmental aspects of ageing.

Marine Parade Family Service Centre (MPFSC)

53 Marine Terrace, #01-227,

Website: www.mpfsc.org.sg

53 Marine Terrace, #01-227, Website:

It is a joint project by CWS, the Brothers of St. Gabriel, and South East Community Development Council, with the function of a first-stop centre for individuals and families who are in need of professional assistance. The MPFSC primarily serves the residents within the vicinity of Marine Parade, Joo Chiat, Geylang Serai, and Mountbatten.

Cyber-Counselling for the Youth

Blk 53, Marine Terrace, #01-227

Website: www.metoyou.org.sg

Cyber-Counselling for the Youth ('metoyou') is an innovative programme currently managed by the MPFSC with the aim of providing young people with an alternative means of communicating with counsellors by providing them with easy access to counsellors through the Internet. It serves to enhance teenagers' level of functioning and handling of relationships at home and in school, and to encourage them to talk about their problems anonymously.

Catholic Aids Response Effort

11 Hillside Drive

Website: www.catholic.org.sg/care

CARE is a lay apostolate ministry. It is a non-parish-based group that adheres to the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church and reaches out to people afflicted with HIV/AIDS and their families, irrespective of race, religion, or social standing.

Good Shepherd Centre - Rose Villa

Blk 250, Yishun Avenue 9,#01-213

Website: www.marymountctr.org.sg

Good Shepherd Centre started in 1986 as a halfway house at Jalan Shaer for ex-women drug addicts and prisoners. Over time, women in crisis and those from violent households were also given shelter there. It relocated to its current location in the void deck of a HDB flat in September 1990. In 1999, the Good Shepherd Sisters made a decision to reach out and be of service to women, mothers and their children experiencing spousal violence and abuse, and foreign domestic helpers who have been abused by their employers. In 2003, Rose Villa, a residential programme for teenagers and women in pregnancy crisis, moved its services to the same location as Good Shepherd Centre.

Poverello Teen Centre

Blk 166, #01-357, Tampines Street 12

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It is a project by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, sponsored by CWS. It was set up in 1999 as a drop-in centre for youths-at-risk from 12 to 21 years of age as the target group. It aims to help youths to develop their potential and skills, instilling in them values of self- orth, discipline and responsibility through creative programmes, in an effort to prevent and reduce delinquent behaviour.

We make time for important appointments. Making time to be alone with your spouse is very important, writes Father Henry Siew.

QUALITY TIME REFERS to those precious moments a couple have to enjoy each other's company and have meaningful exchanges, undistracted by other preoccupations or interruptions.

Such moments during which both give full attention to each other should be made and treasured. If a spouse is rushing out or even just watching TV or working on the computer or when the children are around playing and yelling - these are not good times for sharing.

A couple living under one roof, eating and watching TV together, and sharing the same bed, may still not make time for "heart to heart" communication. When they do talk, they may just talk about the weather, news, shopping, work or the children - subjects that do not touch on their inner emotions, needs, thoughts or desires.

Ask yourself how much quality time you spend with your spouse. When was the last time you really opened up and freely expressed your feelings and desires to each other?

(continued on page 2)

Just the two of you

One way to appreciate the meaning of quality time is to think of a time when we visit a bedridden relative or friend alone.

In one of his articles, Father John Powell recalled the beautiful moments during his weekly visits to his sick and bedridden mother. They used the same room for every visit; there were only the two of them, no one else was there. Mother and son talked freely about anything including their innermost feelings.

Most of the times Father Powell would start by telling his mother about issues that had been bothering him. For example, he had lost his temper with his colleague or he had an unknown fear of death. Touched by his openness, she also shared with him her experiences and feelings. She told him that she was not afraid of death but she could not endure physical pain.

Some people claim that a couple who have been married for years would know each other so well that there is nothing new to talk about. However, this is often not so. Couples frequently hide their feelings for fear that expressing them would lead to conflict or rejection, or require change, or cause the loss of the other's love, or hurt the other.

When you take courage and risk rejection to share and your spouse is a willing listener, and when it is done with no time pressure and the environment is conducive, you will be surprised that there is so much to share with each other. The couple will discover issues and emotions that they had consciously or subconsciously overlooked previously and realise that it is now the appropriate time to reveal. Most couples will experience great relief and satisfaction during the quality time spent together. They will also find their relationship taking a leap forward.

On the other hand, if no effort is put into arranging quality time for dialogue, it will be almost impossible to have such an experience of "deep" exchanges. This quality time is not intended to solve a problem or to make a decision. It is simply a time that a couple dedicate solely to each other.

FHS2.jpgTelling another person what has been hidden in our hearts, especially negative experiences, requires a lot of courage even if it is between husband and wife. Therefore, doing it at the appropriate time and place is very important. Besides the privacy of your bedroom, you may choose also to walk along the seashore or in a park where the relaxed atmosphere could encourage effective sharing.

(continued on page 3)

Dialogue, not monologue

Both parties must be given equal time to share, otherwise the intended dialogue may deteriorate into a monologue.

The event you are going to share may be past or present, but the feelings are lingering. For instance, a month ago you quarrelled about the children (or some other matter), one party felt hurt by what the other spouse had said at that time. To talk about it now when the event is already past and emotions have calmed, could avoid a destructive emotional outburst.

Both parties can gain by knowing each other's views and emotions then and hopefully will result in greater understanding and a stronger bond now. One further step in dialogue is also to talk about how each other feels after the issue to share has been brought up.

If the event is current, the one who shares will say, "What is most pleasant today is…" or "I am grateful to you now in that…" The other spouse listens with eyes in contact and without interrupting. After about 3-5 minutes, the other spouseresponds by sharing feelings about it. Then the first speaker will listen to the other share on the same topic.

Other ways of beginning the dialogue are "I felt most happy during this week when…" or "I like you because…" or "What I long to do together with you is…" When the topic is negative, for example, "This week I felt sad that…" or "When such and such happened yesterday, I felt disappointed…" you should only share the happenings and the feelings and never make any criticism or judgment.

(continued on page 4)

Writing it down

Couples who have attended Marriage Encounter learn to treasure such special moments. They also learn to use "love letters" as a communication tool.

First they write down their experiences and feelings related to certain topics; after that they exchange their letters during the quality time. They then read them, dialogue about them and use them as the stepping-stones for further sharing.

The desire to make an effort for quality time is usually in direct proportion to the desire to have good communication. However if the couple does not make time for each other, it could be because their desire to deepen their relationship is not strong enough or they simply fear intimacy.

The truth is, once a couple discovers the wonderful benefits of such sharing moments, they will learn to treasure them. Then at times that are not pre-arranged, when an opportunity presents itself, they will know how to take advantage of it and enjoy a special and intimate time together.

FHS.jpgFather Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to the Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend.

DaVinci.jpgSINGAPORE - A Catholic bookshop, Catholic News Book and Media, has ordered a large number of copies of "The Da Vinci Deception" to provide Catholics and others interested to learn the truth about Jesus and the Catholic Church "a powerful antidote to the untruths" found in "The Da Vinci Code".

Don Gurugay, manager of the bookshop, which is located at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre in Highland Road, said that "The Da Vinci Deception" which is available at the bookshop and at Katong Catholic Book Centre, is priced at $9 a copy. Mr Gurugay expects that the book will refute the many outlandish claims of the "The Da Vinci Code" and clear up the questions many Catholics may have.

Ascension Press, publisher of "The Da Vinci Deception" says that the easy-to-read, question- and-answer book tackles the key errors in DanBrown's blockbluster. "It is the perfect giveaway to family, friends, parishioners, and anyone you think may be in danger of having their faith in Christ and his church eroded by ("The Da Vinci Code") mockery of truth," it adds.

It's website at http://www.davinciantidote.com/ has free downloadable study guides to help run study groups at home, school, and church. These discussion guides use "The Da Vinci Deception" as an easy-to-implement, effective programme for youth and adults.

The Canossian sisters have been serving in Singapore for 112 years. Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp, writes about this vibrant community - 58 strong here - and focuses on two of its members.

Canossian-last.jpg

THE CANOSSIAN DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY first arrived in Singapore in 1894. Four sisters from Macau came at the invitation of the Bishop of Macau to work with the Portuguese Mission at St. Joseph's Church, Victoria Street. Over the 112 years of their presence, they have expanded to Malaysia and have been blessed with many local vocations.

Today there are 58 Canossian sisters serving the Archdiocese of Singapore - by far the largest religious congregation in the country. Their large number allows them to be engaged in various ministries. They serve in education (including operating the Hearing Impaired Learning Centre), adult faith formation,pastoral care of the sick and elderly, counselling, retreat and spiritual direction.

They are responsive to contemporary needs and are active in inter-religious affairs, ecumenical concerns, and the AIDS patients, migrants, and prison ministries. The sisters in Singapore also conduct mission outreach in Myanmar. At the heart of their different ministries is the aspiration of their founder, St. Magdalene, "to make God known and loved."

In the spirit of Christ crucified and risen, the sisters conduct their mission through a prophetic witness of a simple, humble and joyful life in community and service, with special attention to the poorest.

(continued on page 2)

Canossian01.jpg

Community life is strengthened at table where meals and laughter are shared.

There are six communities where the Canossian sisters in Singapore live and minister:

St. Anthony's Canossian Convent (Bedok North)

Primary and Secondary School, Student Care Centre

Canossian Eduplex (Sallim Road)

Primary School, Hearing Impaired School, Children's Home, Kindergarten

St. Joseph's Canossian Convent (Jurong)

Nursing Home and Hospice

St. Magdalene's Canossian Community (Jalan Merbok)

Kindergarten, Spirituality Centre

Canossian Formation House (Lorong Low Koon)

House of prayer and vocational accompaniment

Bakhita Community (Woodlands)

Joint religious and lay pastoral community

(continued on page 3)

St. Magdalene of Canossa (1774-1835)

Canossian02.jpgMAGDALENE GABRIELLA was born on Mar 1, 1774 of a noble family of Canossa in Verona, Italy. At the age of five, she lost her father and when she was seven her mother remarried and left her in the care of a governess.

Drawn by the love of God, she planned to consecrate her life to him at the age of 17. After twice attempting life as a Carmelite, Magdalene realised that her call was to be a contemplative in active works of charity.

In 1808, she overcame her family's opposition and left Canossa Palace to begin her ministry in the poorest district of Verona. In 1828, she obtained pontifical approval for the Institute of the Daughters of Charity. By then they were already present in Venice, Milan, Bergamo and Trent.

Magdalene died in Verona in 1835. She was beatified in in 1941 and canonised in 1988. Today there are 3,300 Canossian Sisters in 32 countries. The Canossian Family includes about 200 Sons of Charity (comprising of priests and brothers), and thousands of lay Canossian Associates.

(continued on page 4)

In love with Jesus: The stories of Canossian sisters Maria Casarotti and Doreen Soh

Sister Maria Casarotti, FDCC

Canossian07.jpgMOTHERLY, KIND AND UNASSUMING, Sister Maria Casarotti was born in Brescia, North Italy and entered the Canossian Daughters of Charity in 1949 at the age of 20. Her two younger sisters followed suit. She attributes her vocation to her parents who led holy lives and who raised 14 children.

She fondly remembers her father's sense of humour. "My father was so proud to be related to God; he said he has given three daughters to be his spouses. So anything he asks from God, God must give him."

Sister Maria joined the Canossians because she was attracted to the sisters' prayer life and their thirst for souls. From the start, she wanted to be a missionary. "Knowing that Jesus died on the cross and paid for all, to go beyond the mountain and beyond the sea to save souls - that was my dream," she reveals.

Her dream came true in 1957, when as a young professed sister, she boarded a ship bound for Singapore. The journey took 22 days and at that time there was no thought of returning to Italy. The Singapore she encountered then was "still a British colony and very primitive. There were a lot of poor, living in kampongs."

The first thing Sister Maria did was to learn English while helping in the school apostolate. Shortly later, she went to Malacca to teach catechism and care for the borders and orphans at the convent. She recalls that "at times, there was no water and life was hard." "But I felt a joy to allow the Lord to flow his love through me to reach these poor people," she added.

Top, Sister Maria Casarotti comforts a patient at St. Joseph's Home in Jurong. She has seen many miracles of healing while ministering there.

(continued on page 5)

Sister Maria has served more than 30 years in Singapore - she ministered in other countries too including six years in Manchester, England, where she assisted in opening a new novitiate. Her longest ministry in Singapore is to the sick and dying at St. Joseph's Home, where she currently resides.

She describes her present apostolate as "helping the people to open their hands and put their hands in Jesus' hands, then tocross the river and be with him forever." "I journey with the sick to lead them to die peacefully," she continues. "I believe no matter what religion they are, after they close their eyes, when they open them again, they will see Jesus."

In 2003, after 24 years of ministering to the sick and dying, Sister Maria felt the need to lead a more contemplative life and went to stay at the Canossian Retreat House in Taygaytay, Philippines, for more than two years. It was a period which she found "very rich in resting in the Lord." But "the voice of the dying and the sick echoed in my heart so I asked to come back (to Singapore)," she says.

Being close to the dying, Sister Maria shares that she has witnessed many miracles. One which touched her deeply concerned a resident who had been a medium. He initially avoided looking directly into her eyes but eventually he agreed to be baptised. She relates, "After I baptised him, he held me very tightly and after two days he died."

Another moving experience for her involved a resident who was a destitute with no relatives or friends. She journeyed with him to the final end and recalls, "He was so alone, there was no one for him. Yet just before he died, he looked at the statue of Our Lady, who I told him was our mother. He smiled a beautiful smile, then passed away."

"To make Jesus known and loved, that's the purpose of my life," she affirms.

When asked on the problems she faces as a religious and a missionary, she replies with gratitude, "Truly I don't know what the cross is. I have good health, good humour, a good community, and a good superior. I see all problems just as a passing cloud. And I carry Jesus with me always."

She adds, "Teaching catechism is my passion - to the old and young, preparing for baptism. I feel lost if even for one day I don't talk about God. The meaning of the day for me is to listen to the Lord, be with him, and walk with him."

(continued on page 6)

Sister Doreen Soh, FDCC

Canossian08.jpgIT WAS HER childhood dream to be a nun but soft-spoken and mild-mannered Sister Doreen Soh only entered the Canossians when she turned 34.

Upon graduating in Sociology and Political Science from the National University of Singapore she worked at the Ministry of Defence for 11 years before finally taking the plunge into religious life.

She explains, "I had to be very sure and took my time. I wanted first to increase my knowledge of God and to know the person of Jesus. After my studies I was so grateful to God, and served as a catechist and the Legion of Mary at Nativity Church. Yet I was still drawn to the world. I was happy at work and enjoyed travelling." However even her travels was God-centred as she spent most of her holidays going on pilgrimages.

As a catechist she worked closely with the late Sister Catherine Wong, a Canossian nun, who became a source of inspiration. "We would conduct home visits together and I admired her zeal to reach out to the people," Sister Doreen recalls. The home visits also drew her closer to God. "I found great fulfilment doing God's work at night, sharing life with the people. I was touched that they open up so easily and entrust their problems to us."

When Sister Doreen decided to attend a Faith Formation course at the Singapore Pastoral Institute, it was a step that not only deepened her faith but also nudged her further in her vocation. She shares, "As I got to know more about Jesus, I fell in love with him. I then started attending daily Mass and making visits to the adoration room."

(continued on page 7)

As her intimacy with the Lord grew, another factor was also pushing her to make a decision. "I was 33 and my biological clock was ticking," she laughs. "I told myself, I better try and see if religious life is for me. If it's not for me, maybe I better get married but I had to try or else I'll regret it for the whole of my life."

The Canossian Sisters was the obvious choice and two years ago, Sister Doreen made her perpetual profession of religious vows. She shares on one of her joys in being a religious. "Living in community with my sisters is very important for me. I find a lot of support and strength from our communal prayer, meals, and when we share our lives in open, trusting relationships, sharing our faith and God experiences with each other."

Her greatest challenge, she reveals, is "to mould myself into the image of Christ - to practise forgiveness, be more loving, and have a greater sensitivity towards others."

To relax Sister Doreen likes to exercise. "We try to do qi gong and also a bit of basic yoga - taught by one of our sisters." She also enjoys cooking for the community even though that is also stressful, she admits with a grin.

Sister Doreen has recently been appointed the vocation promoter for her congregation. Young ladies interested to know more about the Canossian sisters may contact her at tel: 6284 5170 and visit www.catholic-church.org/canossians-sg

Canossian04.jpgCanossian05.jpgCanossian06.jpgCanossian03.jpg

Photos show the Canossian sisters in Singapore serving in various ministries. They are in education, adult faith formation, pastoral care of the sick and elderly, counselling, retreat and spiritual direction. They are also active in interreligious affairs, ecumenical concerns, and the AIDS patients, migrants, and prison ministries.

- View the complete list of religious orders in Singapore

EMT01.jpgEvelyn, 49, and her husband Michael Thung, 57, have served with the Precious Community of San Fernando Dilao Parish of the Philippines for seven years. Here's their mission story:

THE COMMUNITY OF hearing-impaired, blind, and mentally challenged, is located at Paco, Manila near their residence. A second hearing-impaired community is located at the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Sorsogon City, a 12-hour bus journey away.

Every Sunday, Evelyn signs at the Mass for the hearing-impaired which is followed with Bible sharing and fellowship while Michael takes charge of the blind and mentally challenged members. Evelyn also serves as an interpreter at clinics or doctor visits and during job interviews. The couple sometimes provide parental comfort, guidance, and advice to the members (especially the orphans and widows) of the Precious Community. In both communities, they work closely with local volunteers and other interpreters.

Presently, Evelyn is pursuing a Master of Arts in Missiology at the Institute of Consecrated Life in Asia. For her, it is a journey of being present with brothers and sisters in need of support - listening to the pains and struggles by reaching out and helping one another.

From 1995 to 1998, Evelyn was actively involved in the Church of St. Michael where she often prayed to God for his mission and will for her. In 1997, Michael and Evelyn encountered Father Andy Altarmirano, a Filipino missionary priest posted to their parish. He had been diagnosed with kidney failure and was advised to retire.

Evelyn and Michael did what they could to support Father Andy's missionary work, and following his retirement, they accompanied him home to Philippines where they took the opportunity to see what was in store for them.

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After three weeks of mission exploration, Evelyn and Michael returned to Singapore, resigned from their respective jobs of human resource executive and hotel security manager, packed their bags and left the country for mission work.

"Initially, we knew God was calling us yet we had no idea how and what was his plan for us" wrote Evelyn in an email interview. "On reflection, I now know that since the beginning, God was leading us step by step, little by little, he was unfolding his mission, will and plan for us." According to Evelyn, letting go of her comfort zone and career, migrating overseas, and adapting to another culture's way of life ranked as the most difficult part of beginning her mission.

However, mission has brought her joys in "sharing our lives and the little we have with the least of our brethren here, having inner peace, and having found the meaning and purpose of our lives." Being able to live simply and understanding that life's struggles are not without joys is another aspect of mission life.

"Mission for me is... witnessing of Christ's love, mercy and forgiveness," she added. To someone considering becoming a missionary, Evelyn has this to say: " Have no fear and go for it with an open mind and heart. Truly, the grace of God is more than enough to see us through."

EMT02.jpgMichael Thung (top) and Evelyn (left) feed physically handicapped children from the community which they have served as lay missionaries for more than seven years.

NET01.jpgSome members of the New Evangelisation Team which visited Cambodia just over a year ago "adopted" a missionary project in Siem Reap, the building of a Learning Centre. Below is a letter from Father Heri, the parish priest at Siem Reap:

"WE THANK ALL the Singaporeans who helped us make our dreams for a second Learning Centre in Siem Reap come true. I am writing to let you know how this centre was built.

We started ordering and buying woods in January 2005. It took us almost two months to buy all the woods needed. Then we dried the wood in Siem Reap church where we can guard the woods every day.

In March we ordered the poles for the fence and the pillars for the centre. These are made from cement. In the middle of March we started to make a well and to build the fences. We also put more soil in the land that we bought. These works finished just before Khmer New Year in the middle of April.

After the New Year break, we started building the centre. In June they finished with the roofing. Then they prepared the woods for the wall and the floor which they finished at the end of the month.

Then we needed to make the stairs, the rooms, the doors, bathrooms, toilets, etc. More soil was put on the ground to prepare a playground for children and, finally, everything was finished by August.

Top, the centre which the members of the Singapore New Evangelisation Team adopted is now alive with activities and children.

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We are very happy with the building. The woods are good, the house is simple but strong. Upstairs, we have one big room and two (smaller) rooms with bathrooms and toilets. Downstairs, we have one big classroom and also two rooms for guests. When we saw the building, we began to dream dreams.

For example, this centre will not only be a learning centre as we had planned, but could also be a welcoming and formation centre for the youths, not only for the Siem Reap parish but also for neighbouring communities. Since we have a big house, we can accommodate more than forty youths. Some of us have offered our service to cook when we have youth meetings.

The playground will not only be for children but also for youth so that they can play volleyball in our centre. We plan to have a library there for the children and the youth. Our catechists have proposed that we can have a regular formation for the youths who are interested to be catechists.

Now that the building is finished, we are working to make a garden around the centre and it will take time. But our youths are enthusiastic about our new centre and they are ready to help to make the garden. Once again, thank you very much for your support and your love for us."

NET02.jpgLeft, children are taught the English language and other skills at the centre to give them a better future. They are also taught dancing to help them reclaim their cultural heritage.

By Joyce Gan

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$4 MILLION SINGAPORE DOLLARS has to be collected over the next four years to rebuild Damien Hall at the Blessed Sacrament Church (BSC).

On Sat, Mar 11, about 120 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony after the 8.30am mass together with five SS.CC. priests who belonged to BSC at different times - Fathers Martin Irawan (now Parish Priest), Anthony Hutjes and Gerardus Suyono (assistant priests), Albert Renckens and Fabian van Lieshout (retired priests).

Father Renckens shared briefly on the history of Damien Hall since 1963 and said that the old will die for the seed of new growth to be planted. This seed was planted the following week with Damien Hall's complete demolishing.

Damien Hall had been well shared between 30 different ministries since 1963. Kindergarten students used the space as an assembly area and playground while migrant workers held their activities and weekend worship sessions there. There were also Alcoholics Anonymous sessions, dance classes, prayer sessions, religious instruction classes, canteen activities, sales of religious articles, library seminars, youth meetings, bible studies and monthly overnight vigils that took place at Damien Hall.

Little wonder then that there was an increasing lack of meeting space in the church. "In addition, more of our space had to be given up due to recent changes beyond our control," Father Martin added. The kindergarten is looking to enlarge its capacity due to a recent Ministry of Education ruling that limits the number of students in one classroom.

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It may be an appropriate time for Damien Hall to begin its rebuilding works since BSC was recently granted conservation status last Sep 26. This means the church is protected as a heritage building for people to enjoy today and in the future. "It is an honour for our parish and it seemed timely for us to look into giving our secondary buildings a somewhat more presentable outlook as well," Father Martin said.

Rebuilding Damien Hall provides the opportunity to enhance and modernise various other services and facilities that BSC provides, such as upgrading the library, classrooms and audio-visual utilities.

Several fund-raising campaigns are in place. Mugs are sold and there was a yearend dinner held to raise funds. Parishioners are pledging their contributions through GIRO aside from the monthly second collection. Father Hutjes has also contributed his books ("The Catholic Church" and "The Catholic Church - A Deeper Perspective") to raise more funds. The team is also preparing appeal letters to be handed to multinational companies for donations. To date, these activities have raised $200,000.

"As many of our parishioners belong to the middle-income and poor families, it is a challenge - especially during the current downstream economy - to raise the amount of money we need by the stipulated deadline," Father Martin said.

Damien Hall was last renovated in 1992 and Father Martin said it is the parish's growing needs that lead to this rebuilding 13 years later.

Donations may be made via crossed cheques payable to "BSC Damien Hall Building Fund" at 1 Commonwealth Drive, Singapore 149603. 

BSC021.jpgThe Blessed Sacrament Church (top) makes space for a new Damien Hall to be ready in 2010 after the 43-year-old one was demolished (right).