The turning point in Redemptorist Fr Eugene Lee’s life came when he was in Phuket, Thailand, during the 2004 tsunami.
Fr Lee, who was doing business in Phuket and who had not joined the Redemptorists then, recalled that he was in church at that time instead of being at the beach.
This apparently saved his life.
“I found myself really snatched away from death. And that was really a pivotal turning point where I felt a new lease of life given to me,” said the 36-year-old who was ordained at the Church of the Risen Christ on June 27.
“That sign was significant enough, obvious enough for me to consider a new meaning...why I am here...what should I be...how should I make good use of the second part of my life?”
Fr Lee, a cradle Catholic, says that prior to this experience, he was “quite lukewarm” about the faith and was “never seriously involved” with Church ministries.
Before working in Phuket, he was six years in the police force. A business opportunity then came his way and he left for Phuket.
However, being a foreigner and having to fend for oneself was “difficult”, he shared.
He experienced ups and downs in his business, and together with crises such as the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in the US, the Bali bombings, SARS and the avian flu, Fr Lee said he started to see the world as “temporal” and his definition of happiness started to change.
He felt an “emptiness” within and that was when he “felt that perhaps going back to church” was one way “to be at peace with myself”. He started attending Mass regularly and made friends with the Religious and the Thais at the parish he attended.
After witnessing death and misery in the wake of the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami, as well as an unstable economy, he decided to return to Singapore and found himself at Novena Church, praying to Mary for help and enlightenment.
He continued to attend Mass and during this period, he “felt that being with God is really different from before. This time I felt safe, I felt warm … I felt very secure”.
The restlessness in him finally seemed to be addressed, “though not fully settled”, he recalled.
Although he did think of joining the diocesan priesthood then, he found that its charism was not for him.
At that point in time, Fr Lee said he had reached a stage in life where he needed to find his “true direction”. He befriended the Redemptorists who gave him “a place of refuge in Punggol” without encouraging him to join their Religious congregation.
“So I stayed with them and eventually to cut a long story short, eight weeks became eight months, eight months became eight years.”
He added that he was initially sceptical about a calling to the Religious life.
However, he felt that the Redemptorists’ formation was holistic and he decided to stay on.
He was also impressed with the Redemptorist community’s “social” relationship with people and, how, through the Novena service, were able to touch the lives of others, including hardened sinners.
Fr Lee began to feel that he could also be life-giving to others, to give hope to others “that God is really there”.
“The little that I know, the little that I speak to people, I could actually bring the message of God to them, I could give them a little bit of inspiration... I could change their perception from being lost... that there is hope, there is a place for them in the Church,” he said.
Fr Lee says he expects to remain in Singapore for the immediate future and help out with Masses, listening to confessions and other duties. He has not been assigned a particular apostolate yet though he has expressed an interest in the prison ministry.