CSC members gather for a meal with spiritual director Father William Goh (second from left). Photo provided by CSC.
SINGAPORE – When Alicia Cheong was pregnant with her fourth child, her baby had a rare condition – a tumour was growing at the tail end of her spine. This meant that the baby would either not survive the pregnancy or faced the potential of lifelong pain and disability.
It was the “biggest crisis” of her life, Alicia later shared. The only thing that got her through was the knowledge that “God loves me and He was in complete control”. Alicia received this assurance when she attended a Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC) in March 2008.
CSC is nestled in a non-descript building at an intersection of Hougang near Punggol Park, opposite the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many like Alicia have passed through its walls to experience conversion, healing, and evangelisation.
Since it was established in 2004, CSC has been conducting ongoing holistic spirituality for Christians. Catholics and non-Catholics alike have attended retreats, formation talks, and community intercession there. A 24-hour Perpetual Adoration Chapel also welcomes all who wish to spend quiet time with the Blessed Sacrament.
Under the spiritual direction of Father William Goh, who is also the Rector of St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, CSC has several key programmes, of which the CER is its cornerstone.
Alicia testified that Father Goh’s counselling and the support of the CSC ministry moved her husband enough to attend the September 2008 CER after which “he was transformed”.
Their baby Emma was later born with a large tumour on her back. She went through an eight-hour surgery the next day to remove the tumour, which turned out to be benign.
“God knew ... that we were heading towards disaster zone, and in His mercy He prepared us by calling us to the retreat where He reminded us ... that He is God and Father who loves us. He heard our cries for help, and He came to our rescue,” Alicia shared.
The CER is based on the conviction that a deep, personal encounter of God’s immense love is crucial for one to effectively live out one’s mission to be Christ to others.
Now into its 18th run, the CER has been drawing full-capacity crowds in the hundreds with many still on the waiting list.
Lucy Koh, 63, who attended the recent March CER, is full of encouragement for others to attend the retreat, especially for “Catholics who feel it’s a routine to just go for Mass, with no contact and communion with God”, she said.
At the CER, participants experience God through the paraliturgy, talks, and people, said Lucy, adding that it is a spiritual, rather than physical, healing process that becomes a “very touching experience”.
She emphasised the need to be open in heart and mind, and said that “if we go, but remain closed, God cannot come in”.
Over the past five years, CSC has attracted a community of some 300 volunteers who serve in various ministries.
CSC members thrive in a community formed after the early Christian communities. The self-emptying love which binds them drives them to serve one another and those in need.
All evangelical activities are based on the condition that the labourers in God’s vineyard must first be in communion before they can share this unity of life in mission to others. This principle of mission in communion, and communion in mission undergirds the work of the CSC community.
CSC has exciting plans to advance its mission of transforming lives with its newly articulated vision – The Pilgrims’ Oasis: A Cradle for Catholic Spirituality in Singapore.
This vision recognises and acknowledges that we are all pilgrims on this faith journey, explained Father Goh: “For many... life is a struggle, and the challenge to live out our Catholic mission can be a bruising experience. But the faithful need not journey alone.”
As such, CSC aims to provide a place for the faithful to gather, be affirmed, be nourished, and be recharged so that, empowered, they can continue their life’s mission of being Christ to others in their respective parishes and organisations, said Father Goh. n
By Heng San San