Daniel Tay was educated in government schools and knew very little about what makes a school Catholic. He had never heard of "school mission" and to see what it is, he recently accompanied a mission team to CHIJ Toa Payoh.
As the healing session drew to a close, the students were invited to reconcile with their schoolmates. Many of them broke down in tears, some even later shared that it was their first time crying in public.
THE MISSION STARTED out with Redemptorist Father Simon Pereira challenging the students to realise their full potential.
He offered advice to them about how to be confident ladies, especially in the presence of boys and warned them of the dangers of dabbling in the occult. Reminding them that each one was special and a child of God, Father Simon encouraged them to hold fast to their good values, and to stand up for themselves in the midst of peer pressure.
During the mission, ex-IJ girl Michelle Tan shared with about 150 Secondary Two girls a story from her own mission six years ago. She had a conflict with a friend at the beginning of her school year, which made her dread going to school. At the mission at the end of the year, she was able to reconcile with her classmate, and this made it possible for Michelle to have good memories of her school.
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I realise that we all suffer from various forms of broken relationships in our lives, whether it is with former friends or family members, and that burying the hurt does not make it go away. In these young lives, there is so much hidden pain, so much left unsaid, so much brokenness. The school missions that they have at the end of every year bring out this brokenness in the students, allowing them to realise and confront the pain, which leads to emotional and spiritual healing.
It allows them to say that they are sorry for what they have done or not done, to close a chapter in their lives, to surrender their pain to God, and to start things anew.
The mission is not restricted to only the Catholics. Father Simon, who has been conducting school missions for the past 27 years, told everyone present: "This programme is dedicated to almighty God, no matter whether you're Hindu, Taoist, Christian, Buddhist or Muslim."
And to prove it, his mission team invited three Muslim students to say the opening prayer for the healing session.
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In all these years of missions, not once has Father Simon, present youth chaplain Father Frederick Quek and their mission team received a complaint of proselytism. On the contrary, through the evaluation forms received, they have frequently received feedback that more time should be dedicated to it.
In the past, the mission was more like a retreat which was held over several days. As circumstances changed, the duration has been reduced to only one session (morning or afternoon) Many students are thankful to the mission team for helping them search within themselves and find "what has been bothering" them.
I am convinced of the value of school missions and it gratifies me to see that the healing power of God is not reserved for Christians only. I did not have the advantage of a Catholic education. Even with this one experience as an observer at a school mission, I now begin to understand what I have missed.