In following the footsteps of St Francis, who is the patron saint for animals and the ecology, the Church of St Mary of the Angels is unique in its own way. JARED NG looks at the church in this series on parish communities.
The Church of St Mary of the Angels sits on a hill in Bukit Batok. Photos: LUMINAIRE PHOTOGRAPHY MINISTRY
On a hill in Bukit Batok is a church that the Franciscan friars in Singapore have called home for the past 60 years.
What started as a simple chapel in 1958 has today grown into a vibrant, nature-caring and evangelistic church known as the Church of St Mary of the Angels.
Following in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans, the friars live and preach the Good News, serving the parishioners and the community. The church collaborates with other faith groups and secular organisations to reach out to the poor and needy living in the neighbouring Bukit Batok area.
And, in keeping with the teachings of St Francis, who is the patron saint of animals and the ecology, every first Sunday of October, the friars are on hand to bless animals with holy water in what has become an annual event of the Franciscans here.
The special event is connected to the Oct 4 feast day of St Francis of Assisi. Cats, dogs, birds, turtles, hamsters, rabbits and sometimes even fishes are among the pets at the blessing.
A noticeable feature at the church are the recycle bins and as part of its care for nature, couples getting married in the church are encouraged not to print their wedding booklets so as to save paper.
Franciscan friar Clifford Augustine (above) said the objective of the children’s liturgy is “to get children to know the person of Jesus”.
Parish priest Friar Clifford Augustine, 52, has introduced a variety of programmes and ministries that cater to people of different ages. These range from a pastoral care ministry for the sick and elderly, faith formation sessions for adults on various topics to a selection of prayer ministries.
One other key area of focus is forming children and youth in the faith, said Fr Clifford, who has served as parish priest for five years.
The children’s liturgy for Primary 1 and 2 students seek to develop in them an appreciation of the Word of God. The main objective of this is “to get children to know the person of Jesus and to have Bible knowledge” through activities such as skits, videos and stories, said Fr Clifford.
Liturgical catechetical sessions are subsequently available for Pri 3 to Pri 6 children to further develop their understanding of the faith.
A special animal blessing is held on the first Sunday of October in connection with the Oct 4 feast day of St Francis of Assisi.
For youth attending catechism classes, the church holds community catechesis which builds on the liturgical catechetical sessions and also empowers each teen to share his or her faith within the community. Instead of regular Sunday classes, the sessions are held on Friday evenings from 7.45pm-9.30pm. This is to prioritise attending Mass together as a family on Sunday, said Fr Clifford.
The youth receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the start of their third year in catechism so there is no “graduation mentality”, said Fr Clifford. Instead, after confirmation, there are follow-up programmes and sessions throughout the remainder of the year to help them grow further in their faith and to also get them involved in youth or other church ministries.
There are currently six youth ministries that fall under an over-arching community known as Deus caritas est (God is Love).
They are the praise and worship ministry, junior catechists, altar servers, youth wardens, youth choir and Youth for Christ ministry.
The church serves up to 10,000 parishioners every weekend.
Mr Alvin Arvind, youth coordinator of the church, said that his aim for the youth is that they not be exclusive but be “a part of and involved” with the church’s activities and communities.
One other interesting ministry within the church is the Flower Arrangement Ministry.
With about 40 members, their weekly activity consists of selecting and buying flowers, arranging the floral decorations for Masses as well as making necessary preparations for special feast days celebrated in the church.
On Mother’s Day, the ministry takes pre-orders for bouquets in the month preceding and sells loose flowers on that weekend.
Said Ms Sylvia Koh, the ministry’s coordinator, “this work we do is a way of giving back to the Church for all the blessings us members have received.”
The Flower Arrangement Ministry of the church assists in arranging the floral decorations for Masses as well as making necessary preparations for special feast days.
The Christmas season can be quite a spectacle at the church.
The Stations of the Cross is held for children to develop their understanding of the person of Jesus.
St Mary of the Angels Church started as a simple chapel in 1958. By 1970, the friars’ chapel had been turned into a church. Plans were announced that the church would be extended to accommodate the growing number of parishioners.
In 1985, the church was extended a second time due to the increase of parishioners resulting from the new blocks of flats in the Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak area.
By 1998, with the building of high-rise housing estates all around the church, the number of parishioners had tripled. Renovations were once again needed to meet the needs of parishioners and the new church was completed in September 2003. On Feb 2, 2004, then Archbishop Nicholas Chia led parishioners in dedicating the church.
The old church building in the 1980s. Church file photo