This was conveyed through interviews with priests, Religious Brothers and Sisters, Church workers and volunteers. Similarly, the virtual exhibition aims to tell the story of Catholicism in Singapore through the voices of people who helped to build the Church. Valerie Siew from the Chancery Office shares how the video and virtual exhibition came about.
“So how? Can the Chancery do the exhibition or not?” This was a simple question posed by Friar Derrick Yap, OFM, to the Chancellor earlier this year.
No one could have predicted the rollercoaster ride that the Chancery Records and Archives unit was plunged into in the months to come.
Our initial plan was simple enough – a poster exhibition that people could view in groups. However as ideas started flowing, it was clear that this was not the right vehicle. We wanted as many people as possible to know the history of our Church! The idea gradually evolved to become a virtual exhibition.
We knew we wanted a static element that people could read in their own time, and something visual like a video that would capture the heart and essence of the Church in Singapore.
When the project started some time at the end of April, the foremost question on our minds in those early days was: “How are we going to complete this by July?”
There was just so much to research and write in order to do justice to our Church’s history, and only two of us in the Chancery Records and Archives handling the project! Nonetheless, trusting in God’s goodness and mercy, we forged on ahead.
For the virtual exhibition, we called on parishes and various church associations to give us their history, as well as made a call for volunteers to help us in research. Many were more than willing to help, and gave us copies of their publications and write-ups that we could use.
We roped in a web developer to start the architecture of the exhibition site and worked with him on the structure of the exhibition. Many calls and trips were made to the CatholicNews archives to get photos and copies of their earlier newspapers.
One of our first resources to help us get our history correct was Fr Rene Nicolas, the Church historian, who shared with us many wonderful stories of his own research into the Church’s history in Singapore. During his time as assistant priest in the cathedral, he was also the one who realised that a relic of St Laurent Imbert was kept there.
Jeanette Chang shared with me that in working on this exhibition, she enjoyed putting together the information. However more than that, she is more excited about the possibilities of more stories that she hopes people will come forward to share through the Our Catholic Histories page that is built into the exhibition.
Beyond the history-writing however, we needed audio-visual storytelling. Therefore, the main attraction of our exhibition was to be a video on the home page of the virtual exhibition. For the video to be done right, it needed artistry, graphics and rendering, the keen eye of a moviemaker, the compelling voice of a storyteller and the grandeur of beautiful music.
Fortunately, we were able to find this in PixelMusica, a local media production company and its award-winning creative director, Linus Jeremiah Koh. After several discussions, we envisioned that the video would convey the historical narrative of the Church through its contributions to education, health and social services in Singapore.
This would be done through unscripted interviews with different key people who could share about what they knew of our Church. All the interviewees did was to speak from their hearts. Linus asked questions and the interviewees simply answered. It was personal, it was intimate, and through this roundabout way, the story of the Catholic Church began to emerge.
I had the privilege of being present during these interviews and even being part of the interview process at one point. It was here that I learnt so much of our faith, our Church, and the struggles of our early Catholic pioneers.
Fr Nicolas, for example, told us that each MEP missionary was given a large pipe and a cross once they were given an overseas mission. Perhaps, he mused, the smoke of the pipe was to deter insects from getting too near when they were in the jungles.
Sr Jean Marie, FMDM, jumped into ambulances in the middle of the night when Mount Alvernia needed an ambulance driver.
Br Emmanuel shared about his involvement in the early Charismatic movement in Singapore with the late Fr Dufay, and his memories spent with the boys of Boys’ Town where they knew him as “the smiling tiger”.
I know I was not the only one who was touched by the interviews. The most memorable interviewee would probably be Sr Gerard Fernandez, RGS, as she shared how she ministered to death row inmates.
Despite the numerous interviews to be filmed, perhaps this was the easier part. The challenge was in screening through, editing and stringing together a coherent story from more than 50 hours of interview footage.
There was also the special effects and animation as well as the cutaways that had to be done. For me, it was an eye-opening experience into how a film was being made as well. The light had to be just right; there should be minimal surrounding noise; the angles had to be correct to hit the light etc.
One of the most challenging shoots was the Infant Jesus Sisters’ interview in the CHIJMES garden. On top of having to battle shadows cast by the ever-changing sunlight as the morning quickly turned to noon, the ever-resourceful producers Amelia Lee and Catherine Zhang even had to request for the restaurants to lower the volume of their music during the shoot and to pacify the nervous security guards.
In the week leading up to July 4, I saw the editing and after-effects team going into overdrive mode as they continuously edited and enhanced every single detail of the film. This was with special effects, sound animation or simply coordinating the music with the exact sequence to produce a specific imagery.
Many have since said that watching the film made them so proud to be Catholic. Perhaps to put things into perspective, Linus also shared that “the time and effort we put into making this film is nothing compared to the depth of sacrifices our priests and missionaries have made for our people.”
However, the story does not end here. There are more stories waiting to be told. Not all of these would be happy ones. Yet we hope they will spur local Catholics onwards to greater mission, reaching out to others and offering them the light of Christ.
The Chancery Records and Archives will be embarking on a new venture to inspire Catholics with more stories, both in video and the virtual exhibition site. We are working to fill up more pages of the site so that there will always be something new for people to discover.
If you have a story or picture about the Church and what our Church used to be like in the past, we want to hear from you. You can share your story by submitting this online at the Our Catholic History tab, accessed at http:// history.catholic.org.sg.
We are also looking for:
- Sponsors who are interested in funding the making of more Catholic Church history videos,
- Volunteers who can help to research and write historical narratives of our Church, and
- Academics who have written about the history of the Church and would like to donate a copy of their theses to the archives.
The virtual exhibition at http://history.catholic.org.sg/
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