SEPTEMBER 27 2009, Vol 59, No 20

Articles will be made available online from Monday 21st September 09

A pilgrimage on foot

The attraction of walking hundreds of kilometers towards an assured destination grew on me, day by day, from the moment I discovered an ancient pilgrimage path in Spain. My month-long journey on foot across the steep slopes, lush valleys and forests of the Pyrenees, and through countless small towns and villages, was part of a subconscious quest to find depth and meaning in my life.

At the age of 33, I was approaching - prematurely, perhaps - what seemed to be a mid-life crisis.

This article has been slightly edited from the one written by Sr Janet Fearns found in the UK Bishop’s Conference Day for Life 2009 Campaign to raise awareness of the problem of suicide. More resources can be found at


Suicide is a tragedy. Whatever the motive might have been, the family never fully gets over the pain or the questions. Each family member will spend the rest of his or her days wondering what could have been said or done to prevent such a death. All too often, in spite of the queries, the answer is that there was probably nothing that would have made a difference. Until the very last spark of life was extinguished, the one who died knew that there was a place where, regardless of everything, those who loved him or her would have shed their own last drop of blood to protect and defend someone who was so precious and central to their own lives.
CatholicNews asked Father John-Paul Tan, parish priest of the Franciscan-run Church of St. Mary of the Angels, and who holds a Masters in Canon Law, the guidelines on funerals in the Singapore archdiocese

CATHOLICNEWS: What is a Catholic funeral, and what is its significance?

FATHER JOHN-PAUL TAN: A Catholic funeral is essentially there to pray for the deceased and to console the family members at their loss. Liturgical symbols remind us of our gift of baptism and its promise of eternal life. These prayers and symbols reassure faith and give hope during this time of grief.
WASHINGTON – In his homily at Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral on Aug 29, Father Mark Hession explained the pastoral purpose of the liturgy.

“In the Catholic tradition, the Mass of Christian burial weaves together memory and hope,” said the senator’s Cape Cod, Mass., pastor. “The worship of the Church locates us precisely between a past we reverently remember and a future in which we firmly believe.”

U.S. MARRIAGE EXPERT Dr William Doherty exposed five modern myths recently at a marriage conference.

The University of Minnesota academic challenged some 200 participants at the 20th Marriage and Relationship Educators National Conference in Melbourne, held from Aug 27-30, to get involved in promoting marriage.

SINGAPORE – Pia and Stefan Attard (photo), full-time missionaries with the ICPE Mission (a Catholic Mission committed to World Evangelisation) were in Singapore in early August with a busy agenda. The Attards are also coordinators of the Abundant Life Ministry, which has a special focus on pastoral care and a ministry for married couples.

The seminarians and priests observe an editorial meeting between The Straits Times Editor Han Fook Kwang and various section heads during a tour of Singapore Press Holdimgs. Photo by Daniel Tay

Priests-to-be learn the importance of social comunication during a tour of Singapore Press Holdings and they are assured that journalists and the press in Singapore, like the Church, seek to find and tell the truth, and to do so responsibly.

SINGAPORE – Sixteen seminarians from the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary (SFXMS) together with SFXMS Rector Father William Goh and Dean of Studies Father Kenson Koh toured Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) where they observed an editorial meeting and exchanged views with SPH Catholic journalists.

Music is in the soul and blood of Father John Joseph Fenelon, a former deejay and dinner-and-dance emcee. It is a gift that he uses much in the service of the church.

MUSIC IS IN the soul and blood of Father John Joseph Fenelon as can be seen from the collection of music CDs and a guitar which take pride of place in his parish office.

SINGAPORE – A total of about 2,400 youth comprising confirmands and those from the youth ministries took part in their respective district youth rallies over the weekends.

About 800 youth attended the Serangoon district rally (photo) – the first of the five district rallies to be held – on Aug 22 at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) Toa Payoh school hall. The West District followed on Aug 29 at Church of St. Ignatius with 200 over attendees.

Two hundred youth from City district, 700 from East and 500 from North held their rallies on Sep 5 at Church of St. Teresa’s auditorium, CHIJ Katong Primary school hall and Hersing Hub Auditorium at Toa Payoh respectively.
Patricia Lim (CHIJ Primary) and Gregory Francis (Swiss Cottage) chat after Mass during the Teacher’s Day celebrations. Photo provided by ACCS

Catholic teachers celebrate Teacher’s Day; archbishop reminds them of their responsibilities

SINGAPORE – More than 300 Catholic educators celebrated Teachers’ Day on Sep 5. The annual event, held at St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) International was organised by the Archdiocesan Commission for Catholic Schools (ACCS) to honour Catholic educators.

This year’s theme, “Teaching as Jesus Taught”, was chosen to remind teachers why they teach and that teaching and discipleship are one and the same.

At a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nicholas Chia, students from Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) Primary formed the choir, and students from CHIJ St. Nicholas, CHIJ St. Theresa’s and SJI International took on the responsibilities of wardens.
THE SCHOOL CHAPLAINCY TEAM (SCT) is ACCS’ response to calls by Catholic schools for support from the archdiocese in the areas of religious education, Catholic ethos and relations with parish communities.

Each SCT comprises lay, religious or clerical persons who minister to a school community.

The SCT aims to support schools to nurture the Catholic character of Catholic schools, and to enhance present school efforts to provide quality Catholic education, especially in the areas of religious education, pastoral care and sacramental life.
Father Frederick Quek responds to a parishioner’s question during a lively Q&A session at OLPS. Photo by Darren Boon

SINGAPORE – Close to 60 parishioners packed Saint Jerome’s Library at Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS) for a lively and informative Q&A session with assistant priest Father Frederick Quek on Wednesday Sep 2.

The hour-and-a-half session saw Father Fred gamely responding to questions posed on a range of issues: how suffering is redemptive, whether the unbaptised would end up in purgatory, and the participation of Catholics in the funeral liturgy of other faiths.

The Q&A sessions are scheduled for every first Wednesday of the month. September’s Q&A was the second held. The first session was in August with parish priest Father Gregoire van Giang in the “hot seat”.
Dr C. S. Seow (left) and Father Suyono Gerardus, assistant priest of Blessed Sacrament Church, at the talk on leprosy. Photo by Ian Carnegie

SINGAPORE – Blessed Sacrament Church is organising a series of talks and activities to celebrate the canonisation of Blessed Damien of Molokai.

The first talk, “Leprosy and how it affects us in today’s society” was delivered by Dr C. S. Seow on Sep 11. Some 60 persons attended and learned that leprosy is curable. There are drugs that can cure leprosy within months, and some even in weeks. Hence, deformity as a result of leprosy is rare in Singapore.

It is caused by Mycobacterium leprae and the disease can be progressive, causing permanent damage to the skin, nerve, limbs and eyes when left untreated, but does not cause death. The victims do not feel pain.
SINGAPORE – Catholic Welfare Services Singapore (CWS) is starting a new project named Hearts@Work. This project aims to establish a self-sustaining community for adults with intellectual challenges where they are encouraged, nurtured and given a sense of dignity and belonging thus empowering them to live and work independently to their highest potential.

The community also seeks to recognise and affirm the gifts of each special person.

This charitable, Catholic-based centre welcomes intellectually challenged persons aged 18 years and above regardless of their race and religion. Means testing will be conducted and priority will be given to the needy.

Hearts@Work hopes to make a difference in the lives of persons with intellectual challenges.
Representatives from the National University of Singapore Catholic Students’ Society pose with Muslim students as they break their fast. Photo by Darren Boon

SINGAPORE – Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is nothing new to Deanna Koh, but the 20-year-old Catholic just fasted a whole day for the first time, in connection with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

The second-year National University of Singapore (NUS) medical undergraduate and five other student representatives from the NUS Catholic Students’ Society joined hundreds of Muslim students to break fast on Sep 3 on the campus grounds.

The spread included bread, rice, prata, a fried flat bread, curries and colorful traditional Malay cakes. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from all food and drink, even water, from dawn to dusk.

Deanna had a sandwich for breakfast and drank only water during the day.
Cardinal Cordes, President of Pontificum Council Cor Unum (second from left) and Archbishop Nicholas Chia (fourth from left), with (from left) Willie Cheng, Raymond Yong and Jeannie Tien at the Spiritual Exercises in Taipei. Photo from Raymond Yong

OVER 400 LEADERS from Catholic charity organisations across Asia congregated at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei to reflect on the Church’s mission of charity from Sep 6 to 11. The 2009 Spiritual Exercises was organised by The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, a body of the Holy See responsible for orienting and coordinating the care of the Catholic Church for the needy. The first Spiritual Exercises which was organised in 2008 for the American continent was very well received and encouraged the Vatican to repeat this experience for Asia.

The participants included five cardinals, over 60 bishops, 200 priests, with the rest lay leaders from Catholic charities, who came from 20 nations across 260 dioceses. The Singapore Archdiocese was represented by Archbishop Nicholas Chia. He was accompanied by Willie Cheng and Raymond Yong from Caritas Singapore and Jeannie Tien from Assisi Hospice.
A statue of Mary is seen in this photo in the grotto at Lourdes, France, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. CNS photo

Heng San San and her husband brought their gravely ill daughter to Lourdes in search of a cure. What they found was the healing embrace of a faithful mother, Heng San San writes

WHEN ASHLEY, MY beautiful six-year-old, was diagnosed with brain-stem tumour, a childhood cancer that is so aggressive no one has been known to survive it, we decided to visit Lourdes. As the guidebook promised, “to speak of Lourdes is simultaneously to speak of miracles”. A miracle was what we were seeking.
Denise kneels in prayer at the grotto after bathing in Lourdes water, and the tears flowed. Photos from Denise Chng

Following the death of her mother and grandmother, Denise Chng Lisan visited Lourdes to prepare for a 600-kilometre walking pilgrimage to fill her spiritual emptiness

IT PROBABLY SOUNDS crazy to wait five hours for a bath, but that was exactly what I did in Lourdes in France. The long line sifted out the faithful from the undetermined, as the hours of waiting got unbearable. I waited on, motivated more by curiosity than by faith. Inch by inch, the line moved. I was chanting the prayer of Hail Mary with the rest of the waiting pilgrims, remembering that it was not so long ago when my life was as empty as an arid land and faith had taken a long leave of absence…
(From top) Pilgrims participate at the Stations of the Cross through the Via de la Rosa; T-shirts on sale can be seen in today’s Via de la Rosa; Father Terence Pereira prepares for Mass on a boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Photos from Teresa Sawitri

Teresa Sawitri went to the Holy Land and found it to be a “must do” trip for Catholics

WHEN MY FRIEND told me that she was signing up for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I signed up too. As a newly baptised, I wanted to find out more about Jesus. The pilgrimage was coordinated by Church of St. Anthony under the spiritual direction of Father Terence Pereira.

Monthly preparation sessions were held from November 2006 and these gradually became more spiritually intense as we drew closer to the pilgrimage date – August 2007. The preparation, which included reading and reflecting on the Gospels, helped me to internalise Christ’s journey and mission on earth.
About 2,100 out of 5,000 villagers will be directly involved in the play. No make-up, false beards or wigs are allowed. While the stage is open to the sky, the audience is safely under cover (above). During crowd scenes there may be 600 people on stage at the same time.

Oberammergau’s Passion play is so authentic that actors are not allowed to wear false beards, wigs or makeup, says Conal Gregory

NEXT YEAR MARKS a rare opportunity to see the world’s most famous Passion play, which will again be staged by the villagers of Oberammergau in southern Germany. Tickets are so highly sought after that travel operators have to bid for an allocation.

The tradition of the Oberammergau Passion play began with a vow made during the Thirty Years’ War. While the Swedes were invading, Bavaria was hit by a devastating plague. Owing to its relative isolation, Oberammergau managed to escape the epidemic until one day a villager who had been living away returned home and unwittingly brought the plague with him. Within a few months 84 people had died.
Father Edmund Chong at Duomo Cathedral of Milan; it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, and took five centuries to complete.

Father Edmund Chong advises on the preparations and attitude needed for a pilgrimage

A PILGRIMAGE CAN be made alone, or with a group (with a spiritual drector in tow). Both have their merits, said Father Edmund Chong, who has been making pilgrimages since June 1993. Father Edmund is parish priest at St. Joseph Church (Bukit Timah).

When making a pilgrimage by yourself or with a friend, you can spend as much time as you like at any site. When with a spiritual director, you enjoy the privilege of celebrating Mass (sometimes at shrines) in a language you are accustomed with, and you get to participate in group religious exercises like praying the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, and doing meditations with your spiritual director’s guidance.
? Fatima

FATIMA IS A small town in Portugal located 88 miles north of of Lisbon. Fatima is a major Catholic pilgrimage site because of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in 1917 to three local shepherd children. The terrain around the village is wild and barren; a stark contrast with the fervent devotion of the millions of pilgrims that visit each year, especially for the main festivals on May 13 and Oct 13.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is one of the most famous Marian shrines in the world. Some four million people visit each year.
The exhumed body of St. Padre Pio lies in a glass sepulchre in the crypt of the saint’s shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, southern Italy. The body of Padre Pio, who died in 1968, will be on display until Sep 23, 2009. CNS photo

St. Pio devotion groups in Singapore continue to pray to him

SINGAPORE – Pilgrims to San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy will not be able to see the body of St. Pio after Sep 23, 2009. His body has been on a year-long display to mark the 40th anniversary of his death and the 90th anniversary of his receiving the stigmata, wounds that recall Jesus Christ’s crucifixion wounds.

Pope John Paul II beatified Padre Pio in 1999 and canonised him in 2002.
Thousands of devotees join in the annual procession at Novena Church on Sunday Sep 6. Photo by Henry Seah

THE PERPETUAL NOVENA to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a great phenomenon in Singapore. The Novena church is known to every taxi driver and commuter, even the entire district has come to be called Novena and every other street and shop as well. Several thousands come every Saturday and the procession on the first Saturday of September is the special day for our community.

The huge congregations we have at the Novena today belie its humble and small beginnings in January 1949 in the community chapel at 300 Thomson Road. It soon moved to the main church, the number of sessions increased and the crowds as well. The rest as they say is history. Families have made the devotion a tradition, hundreds of letters arrive every week and many have their prayers answered and have become very faithful to the Novena.

Redemptorist Father Jacob Ong following Father Paul Pang in the procession around the church (Photos by Henry Seah)

SINGAPORE – Thousands of devotees participated in the Novena procession held at Novena Church at Thomson Rd on Sep 6. The theme this year was “Faithful People of God”.

The church grounds was packed with people, many of whom came early to secure a place at a “good spot” to follow the procession and to admire the decorations, among them walls adorned with a countless number of flowers depicting images of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, chastity, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.