Father Luke Fong participated in a spiritual gathering of 850 priests in Ars, France, that renewed his vigour for his ministry. Here's his experience in his own words:
THERE ARE NO traffic lights in the village of Ars. This is just how small this tiny village of about 1,100 inhabitants is.
There is only one main street in this village, and it is almost charming to a fault. There's a little park in the village centre, three cafÃ©s, one creperie, a pharmacy and a patisserie that supplies the locals with their daily baguettes.
And right in the middle of all this, there stands an impressive Basilica which is connected to the small church where the incorrupt body of St. John Mary Vianney, the Holy Cure of Ars, is kept. Each year, about 500,000 pilgrims and tourists visit this holy site.
It was in this village that 850 Catholic priests, together with a large number of bishops and cardinals, met for one week from Sep 25 to Oct 1 for an international retreat for priests led by notable Irish retreat masters Father Kevin Scallon and Sister Briege McKenna.
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I was blessed to have been one of the priests sponsored for this retreat by kind benefactors from Singapore. The other Singaporean priests who went with me on this retreat were Fathers Augustine Tay, William Goh and Frederick Quek.
This massive retreat was organised by International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, and I must say that they did a remarkable job and were very much led by the Holy Spirit in their organisation.
Each day featured thematic spiritual talks and input given by the spiritual directors, and the liturgy was presided by various bishops and cardinals.
The presence of 850 brother priests from different parts of the world gathering in the Lord's service gave the place a very warm and prayerful atmosphere. Looking around, one could see old priests, young priests, short and tall ones, frail and robust ones, balding and the bald, fair skinned and dark skinned, speaking different languages but yet living the same language of the love of God and called to serve in his vineyard.
I was reminded how small God's world really was, and how beautiful is the call to the priesthood.
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The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was celebrated for priests who wanted to celebrate the sacrament. All of us had the opportunity to celebrate in a very meaningful way the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and I could see that many of us were renewing ourselves in the love of the Lord and at the same time, renewing the graces of our priesthood.
There was a grand procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the village on one of the evenings, with all the 850 priests leading the way, singing hymns of adoration and praise to God, but the apathetic state of the church in France was quite visible when it was clear that the villagers were nowhere in sight, except for the few who popped out their heads from the windows of their homes above the shops and eateries.
In fact, the only non-priests who made quite a noise were the village mule and horse which seemed to be quite excited about the procession and the carrying of the monstrance!
But this retreat did give some precious insights and spiritual reminders for us priests, and I am sure that many who made the retreat were recharged and energised for their ministry. Being away from our parishes for a week (or more, for some), we left the tiny village of Ars with renewed vigour and strength for our ministry.
There may not be any traffic lights in Ars, but I am glad that the hectic lives of 850 priests stopped for a good week of spiritual recharging before resuming the journey of our service and love of the Lord.
I am sure the holy Cure of Ars would approve.