Friars Jason Richard, Don Don Ramerez and Esmond Chua share their faith journeys with Jared Ng

Archbishop Goh to new priests: Be of service to the people of God

From left: Friars Esmond Chua, Don Don Ramerez and Jason Richard stand before Archbishop William Goh during  their ordination Mass on Feb 12.

Do everything for the sake of love, be motivated by it.

These were words shared by Archbishop William Goh to Franciscans friars Esmond Chua, Don Don Ramerez and Jason Richard during their ordination Mass.

About 1,000 people attended the Mass at the Church of St Mary of the Angels on Feb 12.

“Don’t be inward looking, be of service to the people of God,” he said.

Archbishop Goh warned them against “action without the spirit. This is the greatest temptation for us as priests and Religious, me included.”

“A priest can be saying Mass and yet not be praying or celebrating it,” he said.

He urged the newly ordained Franciscan priests to “really encounter the depth of God’s love”, following the example of their founder.

“St Francis of Assisi when he encountered the depth of God’s love, he gave up everything. Everything else became secondary to him. Without God’s love, we would never be able to do what Jesus had done.”

Concluding his homily, Archbishop Goh asked the congregation to pray for all priests in the archdiocese. “Please pray for us, that we will encounter this love of God more and more each day, so that we can love you with a pure and humble love.”

The end of the special celebration saw each of the new priests giving a speech.

Friar Esmond, a Malaysian, gave thanks to everyone involved in supporting him through his journey to the priesthood.

“What I am today is a reflection and response to God for what each and everyone of you have been for me,” he said.

Friar Don Don offered his gratitude to “all the prayers and practical help” he received on his journey. He also thanked friends and family who had come from his home state of Sabah for the celebration, as well as those from Sarawak, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Friar Jason, a Singaporean, thanked his formators Friar Julian Mariaratnam, Friar Michael D’Cruz, Friar Peter Michael and Friar Clifford Augustine.

“I think these are the people who scolded us for the last 10 years,” he said to laughter. “Today and the weeks leading up to this moment, I realised that it was out of love and care.”

Service in the Holy Land affirmed his vocation

Friar Jason Richard seen here with a Turkish guard in Bethelem during his Franciscan pastoral formation period.

He was in his prime – young, independent and earning a stable income.

However, Friar Jason Richard felt a certain void in his life.

“I felt something was missing, there was a sense of emptiness and loneliness,” he told CatholicNews in an interview prior to his ordination.

In his late 20s, while working in the Singapore Exchange, Friar Jason said he began to discern his calling through prayer.

Admitting that his faith was weak at that time and that he only attended Mass during major feasts such as Easter and Christmas, Friar Jason, now 43, said that “a real re-examination” of his life was necessary.

He started reading about the life of St Francis of Assisi. “I was able to relate to his life in a way, how he received the call from God to build His Church,” Friar Jason said.

St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment, abandoned a life of luxury for a life devoted to Christ after hearing the voice of God, who commanded him to rebuild the Church.

Inspired by the saint, Friar Jason reached out to the Franciscan order in Singapore and joined their community in 2008 at the age of 34.

He said his family was “proud and supportive” of his decision.

Friar Jason also recalled an occasion in his childhood that helped him discern his vocation.

He was an altar server in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at that time, and during a morning Mass, he made a mistake. Embarrassed, he left the Eucharistic celebration halfway and hid in the sacristy. Fr Louis Loiseau, the celebrant, immediately went to look for him to reassure and comfort him.

“I thought he would be angry but instead he made me feel really touched by his gentleness and love,” Friar Jason said.

Entering the Franciscan order came with its fair share of challenges.

“I used to have freedom and more control over the things happening around me,” Friar Jason said. “In the community, I had to cook, buy groceries, do chores as part of my formation,” something he was not used to.

However, as the years went by, “I discovered more about myself and God’s plans for me,” he said.

In 2013, as part of his Franciscan pastoral formation, Friar Jason had the opportunity to work in the Holy Land. There, he served in different cities in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. He was also posted to the Vatican Embassy in Cyprus.

“Initially, it was daunting. I had to learn Italian before leaving and really didn’t know what to expect,” he recalled.

During his posting, he helped with relief efforts for those living in poverty and would meet the locals by travelling from village to village with a donkey carrying his belongings.

“If I had any doubt about my calling, the visit was the seal.

Everyday I could feel the spirit of love and mercy.”

Friar Jason returned to Singapore and made his final profession in 2014.

In June 2016, he was ordained to the diaconate and has since served in the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea.

Some of his responsibilities included giving sessions and conducting retreats for the youth, RCIA and the catechetical ministry.

He now serves as assistant parish priest in the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

His advice to those thinking of joining the priesthood: “Don’t ignore the little voice inside you telling you to return to God. Really re-examine your life and see where He is calling you to be.”

Touched by a movie, he answers God’s call to serve

Friar Don Don Ramerez shared that he will be posted to St Anne’s Church in Kuching, Sarawak, after his ordination.

Friar Don Don Ramerez first felt the call to the Religious life when he watched the 1972 movie – Brother Sun, Sister Moon – based on the life of St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans.

“The movie spoke to me in a way I never felt before ... it made me cry,” said the 40-year-old Filipino, who was born in Kampung Babagon, Sabah, East Malaysia.

Speaking to CatholicNews, Friar Don shared that he was only 19 when he was invited by a friend to watch the movie at a Franciscan convent.

Now 40, he recalled the “feeling of emptiness” he had during his teens despite being in the company of friends and family.

After watching the movie, he shared that he started attending daily Mass and his yearning for God grew.

After completing his college studies, he worked in his family’s contracting business for a few years before he took a leap of faith and wrote to the Franciscans in Singapore.

In 2008, he joined the Franciscan postulancy in Singapore. He also had his priestly formation at the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary in Punggol.

Despite his family’s concerns, “I felt such a strong calling to follow my heart, I told my family to ‘let me go’, and they gave me their support,” said Friar Don, who has three older brothers and a younger sister.

Friar Don struggled initially in adjusting to a new culture and environment in the Franciscans. In 2010, he began to have doubts about his vocation and thought of leaving.

During his periods of doubt, he noticed many people coming up to him to ask for prayers.

“I realised that God was telling me to look beyond myself and to instead see the bigger purpose in life, which is the service of others,” he said.

As he spoke mostly Bahasa Malaysia, the language barrier posed another challenge.

“The fraternity and brotherhood that we had in the Franciscan community kept me going,” said Friar Don, who made his final vows in August 2014. In July 2015, he was posted to the Church of St Francis of Assisi as part of his preparations for the priesthood.

In June 2016, Friar Don was ordained to the diaconate.

He will be posted to St Anne’s Church in Kuching, Sarawak, after his ordination.

His advice to those thinking of becoming priests: “Do not be fearful; listen to your heart. Running away won’t help, God will always find you.”

Idea of community life attracted him to the Franciscans

Friar Esmond Chua has been appointed assistant parish priest at the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

The idea of community living and prayer inspired me to a Religious life,” said Friar Esmond Chua, 37, “to be able to bring the Gospel to those who need it and to share the faith.”

Friar Esmond, who was born in Kuala Lumpur, shared with CatholicNews that his faith journey started with his family.

“My family always had a strong prayer life, we would pray together everynight.”

As a boy, he would attend Mass in a little chapel called Kristus Aman (Peace of Christ). He recalled Paris Foreign Missions Society priest Fr Peter DeCroocq visiting his grandmother every week to minister to her.

“That availability he always had, despite being so busy, really intrigued and made me want to know more about the Religious vocation,” he said.

However this did not materialise at first. He worked in the private education sector from 2002-2007 where he taught students source skills to prepare them for the working world.

Although he “really enjoyed” what he did, “I felt something was missing in my life,” he shared.

He underwent a period of discernment during which he recalled Fr Peter’s moving gesture when he was younger.

Friar Esmond then decided to approach the Franciscans in Singapore because of the idea of “community living and also the ability to move around, whereby the parish isn’t your only ministry.”

He joined the Franciscans in 2008. Coming to Singapore was a “leap of faith,” he said. “My family supported me in my decision but I was nervous because I knew no one in Singapore.”

He shared that he and the other Franciscan postulants supported one another “despite coming from different backgrounds.”

“We all felt nervous so in a way, it was easy for us to share and relate to one another,” he said.

However, it was not always smooth sailing. Community life also presented its fair share of “misunderstandings” and “arguments,” he recalled.

Friar Clifford Augustine, who was one of Friar Esmond’s formators at that time, reminded him “to see the bigger picture,” he recalled.

“He [Friar Clifford] said it wasn’t about me but about the kingdom of God,” Friar Esmond recalled.

In 2013, he was posted to Auckland, New Zealand, as part of his Franciscan pastoral formation. There he leant about the shortage of priests there and its effect on the Church.

Parishes had to close down or merge with others because there were not enough priests, he said.

Friar Esmond made his final profession in 2014 and was ordained to the diaconate in June 2016.
Since then, he has served in the Church of St Mary of the Angels assisting parish priest Friar Clifford in the liturgy and other prayer services.

Friar Esmond is now assistant parish priest there.

His advice to those thinking of joining the priesthood: “There is definitely a risk element involved but that is where one must discern and take that leap of faith. Also, lean on the support of your family because that is where all vocations start.”

By Jared Ng
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