By Joyce Gan
"IT WAS A very simple celebration," Father Cyril Lee, Assistant Priest at the Church of St. Anthony, said of his celebrations of his 40th year as a priest. Nevertheless, he is very happy with it and remains very proud of how the organisers got everything done in less than two weeks.
Father Lee shared that he had not planned to celebrate this occasion because in his opinion, he had not done anything spectacular. "I just happened to live till nowâ€¦ I am thankful to God to let me serve this number of yearsâ€¦ I do not think it is any part of my glory or merit," he stated matter-of-factly.
Yet it was in the celebrations that he witnessed friends' and parishioners' "love and support" because "it is in this time that they express these".
Francis Lee, Church of St. Anthony parishioner and organiser of the celebrations said: "I find him very approachable although he is a man of few words. He doesn't talk much but whoever talks to him feels very at ease with him. He is also a very intelligent priest and his homily is very deep."
Members of the Chinese language community for whom Father Lee celebrates Mass say they are very happy with him especially because he celebrates Mandarin Masses for them and has to make an effort to prepare for it in their language.
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In the last 40 years, Father Lee had served as a priest in several parishes including the Churches of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael, St. Vincent de Paul and had spent 10 years at St. Anne's.
He was also the editor of CatholicNews for more than 10 years and he said that it was at the newspaper that he formed the best memories. He stopped writing for the newspaper in 2001. CatholicNews staff remember him as a very quiet man, always thinking, and diligent with his work. He did not talk much but he was a very nice person who was always pleasant.
Father Lee's happy memories of his days at The CatholicNews Office will come as no surprise to those who know him because he enjoys writing immensely. He had a big following of readers who looked forward to reading the perceptive editorials he used to write in his distinctive style - clear messages in simple English that go straight to the point. These days, he continues to write and for the parish bulletin as well. "I don't speak [my thoughts] out loud," he said but he writes his observations of situations that unfold around him.
Otherwise, Father Lee spends most of his free time reading just about every kind of literature though he prefers to read about public affairs and world events. The recent celebrations have also allowed Father Lee to look back upon the last 40 years.
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He has absolutely no regrets over the priestly life despite the journey not being smooth all the time because of his poor health. He has had a few bouts of sickness in his life, and an accident six years ago that hospitalised him for three months.
Despite these obstacles, Father Lee said that he has always felt God's presence. "I think that God has never left me beforeâ€¦ and when sufferings come, God seems to be nearer. I just feel that God is there," he said.
With this in mind, Father Lee accepts his health problems as a "part of life". He drew inspiration from his elder brother, Father Leo Lee, who died in 1974. "He lived through his sickness very well and that inspired me to go on," Father Lee said.
Incidentally, his brother was also a priest and was the one who gave Father Lee the final nudge toward his calling. Father Leo Lee was the first Singaporean to join the seminary at Ponggol when it was restarted by Father Pierre Barthoulot in 1949 after World War II.
Forty years ago, Father Lee had attended two vocation camps when he first felt the calling from God but had done nothing about it after. It was Father Leo who prompted him and asked, "What about it?" that set Father Lee on his way to the priesthood.
He acknowledged that his brother was a very good example of how to be a good Catholic and this is why despite the hardships he may face, he says that, "at the present moment, I do what I can."
When asked if he looks forward to celebrating his Golden Jubilee, Father Lee stated simply, "Yes, if God willing."