Jared Ng looks at how the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea conducts these and other activities in this ongoing parish series
The Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, located in Yishun, was designed to look like an ark.
Catering to the demands of a large parish can be challenging. However, the various coordinators and leaders of the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea (OLSS) have embraced these challenges to create a vibrant and active church.
Under the guidance of parish priest Fr Gregoire van Giang, 64, various ministries and activities have been set up for
parishioners to connect more closely with God.
Some include a weekly Bible study session for all parishioners and a monthly rosary devotion conducted in six languages and one dialect.
The church is also set to undergo renovations next year to increase its capacity as more parishioners are expected in the near future.
Elderly living in the nearby estates gather every Tuesday to take part in social activities and exercises.
Once Canberra Station under the Thompson Line is completed in 2019, the church expects an influx of new parishioners.
Renovation works are expected to be completed in 2018.
Neighbourhood Christian Communities (NCCs) from the church pray the rosary at the homes of parishioners throughout the year. According to parish pastoral coordinator Paulus Hu, 47, each zone has at least one day of rosary prayers while others may have it for a whole week.
A Marian statue is also brought from house to house for the prayers.
On the 13th of every month, a rosary procession and a special Mass are organised for all parishioners. The rosary is recited in English, Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, Tamil, Malayalam and Teochew.
Fr Gregoire van Giang has been serving in the parish for about a year.
Mr Paulus Hu helps to oversee various projects of the church in his role as parish pastoral coordinator.
The initiative started during the tenure of Fr John Joseph Fenelon, former parish priest. About 200 people usually attend the event which starts at 8pm.
If the 13th of a particular month falls on a weekend, the procession is held after the 5pm Mass.
It is held on the 13th to commemorate the dates when Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three children.
A Bible study session was started on Aug 3 by Fr Gregoire, who has been in OLSS for about a year.
The sessions are open to all parishioners and held every Wednesday at 8pm.
About 150 participants attend the study group which Fr Gregoire says “aim to deepen the Bible knowledge of our parishioners but also foster community among them”.
Parishioners praying at a rosary procession held on the 13th of every month.
Every Tuesday morning, elderly people living in the surrounding estates come to take part in activities that aim at keeping them healthy.
About 40 elderly, most aged 70 and above, participate in activities such as physical exercises, board games and mahjong.
During some sessions, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital staff come to teach them about healthy eating.
According to Fr Gregoire, some of the elderly stay in the church until evening Mass as they enjoy spending time with their peers.
“They have nothing to do at home so they stay and chat with their friends. They are welcome to stay as long as they like,” he said.
He plans to have the sessions on Friday in the near future too.
According to Mr Bosco Lai, 33, youth coordinator of OLSS, the youths in the parish are involved in a number of ministries.
These include the parish’s own youth community, Hospitality Ministers, a choir ministry that sings for the 10.15am Mass, Lectors Ministry, the Legion of Mary group and the catechetical programme.
The parish youth community has about 25 youths and they meet on Wednesdays evenings and Saturday mornings.
On Wednesdays, this group attends Fr Gregoire’s Bible study session when they finish with their own gathering.
They have quarterly youth Masses and also help organise the Stations of the Cross during Lent.
Celebrating the parish feast day on Sept 25, the youths helped out in the parish walk event by selling shirts which went to the church renovation fund.
Members of the youth community performing a song item during a Youth Talent Night held this year.
Other events include a Youth Talent Night attended by 60 teens. The event showcased song, dance and magic performances by members of the youth community.
“The feedback we got from our youth was that music was a popular outlet and attraction for them so we decided to organise this event,” said Mr Lai.
There is also a young adults community, Grace Abounds, which has about 10 members. They meet on Fridays.
Apart from its weekly sessions, the group also supports and serves the parish in various activities. Some of its members have served in confirmation camps as facilitators and intercessors while others assisted in events conducted by the catechetical and RCIA ministries.
The parish celebrated its feast day on Sept 25 this year. During the special occasion, Archbishop William Goh joined parishioners for a rosary procession organised by the church.
On Sept 24, a parish feast day walk was organised to further build communion among parishioners.
Starting off from the church, parishioners made the journey together to the Sembawang Hot Spring at Gambas Avenue.
Shirt sales from the walk went to the church renovation fund.
Fr Gregoire estimates about 6,000 parishioners attend Mass every weekend.
Filipinos make up about 25 percent. The Tagalog Mass is held on the first Saturday of month at 6.30pm.
The Tamil Mass is celebrated on the second Sunday and third Saturday of the month at 6.30pm. The Malayalam Mass takes place on the third Sunday of the month at a similar time.
Parishioners taking part in a parish feast day walk on Sept 24.
There were about 110 confirmands this year while the average number of infant baptisms a year is 60.
Unlike other parishes, the RCIA process in OLSS does not have a fixed time frame.
The journeys of catechumens and candidates are focused more on their discernment journey, Fr Gregoire said.
The input and advice of Fr Stanislaus Pang, the spiritual director of the RCIA programme, also plays a part in deciding when catechumens are ready for baptism.
The church building was designed to look like an ark. The bow (front part of a ship) can be seen when entering the church and it has two circular windows flanking the name of the parish.
For more information about the church, visit http://www.olss.sg/
History of OLSS
According to the parish’s 50th anniversary commemorative magazine, in 1950, Fr Albert Fortier, who was serving at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, was posted to look after the growing Catholic community in Sembawang.
He was tasked with building a new church. Archbishop Michael Olcomendy provided $5,000 to help launch the project but more funds were needed.
Following an appeal by Fr Fortier to the British authorities, a land site at the Sembawang and Canberra Road junction was offered on a 21-year leasehold. The land was part of the then naval base area.
Fr Fortier proceeded to start a major fund raising effort with parishioners and well wishers contributing close to $12,000 towards the building fund.
Other organisations such as the Catholic Nurses Guild of Malaya also had a big part to play in helping to raise
The new Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea was officially dedicated on Dec 13, 1953.
As the neighbourhood in the area continued to grow, more land was needed for the expanding housing estates. The parish received a notice saying the church would have to relocate.
After an intensive search, the present site at Yishun St 22 was purchased. On Jan 6, 1990, Archbishop Gregory Yong gave a special blessing to start construction.
The new church building was blessed and declared open by Archbishop Yong on May 30, 1992.
By Jared Ng