Julia Tan had left the Church in 1998 as she was caught up with her career, family, friends “and everything else that the world could offer”, she said.
She only returned to attend Sunday Mass in 2012. Her “heart was bursting with joy” after receiving Holy Communion, she said.
“I was made whole again in this union with Jesus through the Holy Eucharist. Since that day, I have looked forward to Sunday Mass. This is my special time with Jesus,” Ms Tan recounted to an audience of 80 on May 25 at Church of the Holy Spirit.
Ms Tan’s return was made possible through Landings, a programme which helps Catholics who have left the Church to explore returning to the Church and its Sacraments.
She spoke at Testify, a Landings event organised “to create more awareness of the mission in reaching out to Catholics away from Church” through the sharing of faith stories, said Tony See, coordinator for Landings Singapore.
Landings has been conducted in the archdiocese since 2007. More than 250 people have undergone the programme.
Ms Tan was one of three speakers who shared their testimonies that afternoon.
Ms Tan, a “cradle Catholic”, had fulfilled her obligations dutifully. She joined a youth group after confirmation but left when her friend left, because she felt she could not “quite connect” with the group. She continued to attend Mass until university days when “attending Mass was no longer a priority”.
“I am not sure if I just got lazy, or I just did not want to go to church alone because at that time, most of my friends were non-Christians. Sometimes I even felt that my religion interfered with my life; it was easier to skip Mass than to miss or reschedule my appointments with friends,” Ms Tan shared.
She also stopped partaking in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as “the thought of having to confront my sins and actually telling them to a priest proved to be too intimidating”, she added.
Prayers became demands from God and when these were not met, she started to doubt God.
After she got married, she gave birth to a son whom she got baptised but did not think it necessary to bring him to church.
While she did consider returning to Church many times, she was paralysed by fear, guilt, and unworthiness of being able to fit into the Catholic community.
To me, the obstacles to return to Church were over-whelming,” Ms Tan said.
However, she found warmth and sincerity in the Landings community through the sharing of faith stories which helped her to reconnect with the Church and with Christ. The fellowship, prayer and worship as a community encouraged her spiritual growth.
“I am a member of the body of Christ and I never need to be alone. The friendship and empathy that I have experienced within the Landings community helped me to come to terms with my unworthiness and brokenness,” she said.
She told the crowd that her healing continues “through the sacraments of the Church”.
Another returning Catholic, Pamela Low said she converted to Catholicism when she married her non-practising cradle Catholic husband.
She attended Mass out of pressure from the in-laws, but did not feel at home in Church; she was baptised a Catholic to receive the full Sacrament of Marriage.
She said that while she and her husband were often distractedduring Mass. They were focused on building their careers to provide a comfortable life for the family.
They felt empty despite being successful in achieving their life goals which she attributes to emptiness in their spiritual lives.
“We were trying to fill this emptiness by at least being physically present at Mass. This was rather naïve of us, as it did nothing to fill the emptiness but rather served to prevent our sense of guilt had we not attended Mass at all,” Mrs Low said.
When they relocated to China in a secondary city due to her husband’s work, Mrs Low said they found many excuses not to attend Mass – the priest’s homily in English was difficult to understand; the church was too cold in the winter.
After returning to Singapore, they attended Sunday Mass out of obligation. Eventually, they chanced upon Landings but were hesitant about joining for fear of being judged.
The alarm bells sounded for the couple when they realised that their two children’s faith mirrored theirs. In order to guide and impart to the children a strong faith, they couple “made a decision to tear down the walls of ego that was standing in the way of being closer to God”, she said.
As such they joined Landings as a couple, though she admitted that the initial process was difficult for her, and she was guarded in her sharing.
She said it helped that the participants in Landings were non-judgmental. Through the sharing and mutual trust, the experience made her realise her “spiritual journey will continue to have its ups and downs but God’s love remains unwavering”.
Mr See said that the Landings team has encountered people who leave the Church for many reasons such as: being distracted by life and career with no need for God; lack of community post-RCIA and confirmation; family being non-Catholic or not practising; divorce issues; married to non-Catholic spouse; angered by clergy or laity; attracted to other denominations; having doctrinal issues and questions about Catholic beliefs; being away overseas due to studies.
People return to Church due to “an inner calling” from a life crisis, emptiness in life or wanting a deeper meaning in life, Mr See said.
It is the Holy Spirit who stirs them, but very “few of them realise this” so Landings helps them realise that God is calling them through life events or people around them, Mr See added.
Each Landings journey lasts about 10 weeks and concludes with a weekend retreat with a focus to experience Christ. Participants are grouped with the facilitators or “welcomers” in groups of eight to 10 people. It is not a “catechism” or “a catechism styled class”. Sessions are focused on sharing of faith stories or on a different Catholic theme each week, such as the Eucharist. Participants are free to share their views, Mr See said.
Landings is held at Church of the Holy Spirit and Blessed Sacrament Church.
A new journey will begin every Monday on June 17 till 25 August at Church of the Holy Spirit. For more details contact Tony see at 9688 0920.
By Darren Boon