APRIL 2007

Huge crowd at funeral of popular priest

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By Joyce Gan

SINGAPORE - The Singapore archdiocese bade farewell to Father Peter Lu who passed away on Wednesday Mar 21 at Mount Alvernia Hospital. The 87 year-old priest's funeral Mass at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tuesday Mar 27 was attended by a huge turnout of more than 1,200 people, many of them spilling out into the grounds around the church.

The people present were not only parishioners from Nativity. They were also from St. Stephen parish, where Father Lu was transferred to as Assistant Priest last year. Those in attendance had been touched in some way by Father Lu, either having encountered him in church or in ministry.

"Fruits of his (Father Lu's) labour," was how Archbishop Nicholas Chia described them in his homily; they were the fruits produced from the seeds of faith Father Lu planted.

Archbishop Chia reminded the congregation that "Father Lu's work is not finished but continues in the work of those he's touched… all the people present here goes to show he's left a deep impression on many."

Father Lu was born to a Catholic family in Shandong, China in 1920 and ordained a priest in 1949. He obtained a doctorate in Canon Law and a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy. He came to Singapore in 1957 after his studies and served at Holy Innocents' High School; he became its principal in 1969 and served till he retired in 1983. All this while, he was also serving as Assistant Priest at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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His most significant contributions lay in his ministering of the Chinese-speaking community through ministries like the Young Christian Students, Young Christian Workers, Legion of Mary and the RCIA. "He definitely contributed to our archdiocese in many ways," Archbishop Chia said.

"Father Lu has lived a long life. But it's not the length that matters but the quality of life led," continued Archbishop Chia. "What's important is how he's made use of what God has given him for the will of God. We sincerely pray for Father Lu for all he's done. Most important for him was his Christian ministry. He heard the call of God and he left his country, family, to promote the Gospel to other countries. He generously gave himself to the service of the church."

The archbishop concluded, "We are sure because of his fidelity and commitment he must have heard Christ telling him, "'Come… to this kingdom prepared for you for all eternity.'"

Magdalene Yong, who serves in the Legion of Mary and who used to bathe Father Lu's dog (together with Fathers Matthias Tung's and Joseph Jeannequin's dogs), said that Father Lu was a very "humble person". She had taken the day off to be present at his funeral Mass. Now it feels like "there's something missing", she added.

Catechist Pauline Heng felt that "we've lost a dedicated, loving person who was connected to his parishioners". She said that Father Lu always had a word of encouragement for all he met and "he will be missed".

By Daniel Tay

Participants of "Porn Stars @ CANA", a series of talks, discussions and sharings on pornography, hope it will lead to serious action in the Singapore Archdiocese to combat the problem.

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SINGAPORE - This is the first time that Catholics from different walks of life have come together to talk openly about the problem of pornography in Singapore society and among members of the Catholic community here.

Left, "It is important for parents to show children what relationships are about," said Keenan Tan (right in photo).

The sessions at CANA - The Catholic Centre on three consecutive Thursdays Mar 15, 22, and 29, were attended by persons who are addicted to pornography or know of someone who has a problem, or who are concerned about the problem generally or are just interested in the subject.

The first session on Mar 15 saw John Tan (name has been changed) make his first public confession about how he was drawn to pornography at the age of 13, how the Internet worsened his addiction, and how he was finally able to overcome it.

His honest sharing drew spontaneous reactions from several members of the audience to stand up and confess their own problems in dealing with pornography in their own lives.

The second session on Mar 22 saw Nicholas Chia (university undergraduate), Keenan Tan (parish youth worker), Simon and Frances Ess (parents), and Brother Michael Broughton (religious educator) share their own experiences of how pornography is present in the lives of the people they interact with, and how they address the problem.

The third session held on Mar 29 saw Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp (Catholic media), Father Philip Heng, SJ (formator of novices), John Ooi (vice-president of Family Life Society), and Louise (wife of a pornography addict) provide various perspectives of the problem and solutions.

Father Philip shared from his experiences as a Jesuit formator. He said that pornography destroys a person's ability to make commitments to a long-term relationship and that the solution was to help them live gospel values.

Augustine Anthuvan, who moderated the three sessions, emphasized that "if you do not check the pornography, it will lead to something worse".

John Ooi who gives talks on sexual ethics to schools and parishes shared a personal experience of how his son, after reading articles on pornography in CatholicNews, approached him and confessed that he too had been viewing pornography.

"I was not as safe as I thought I was, and this kind of surprised me," said Mr Ooi. "I believe that the problem is greater than naïve parents like me believe."

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What can be done

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Right, Louise (left) wants to share her story to help others in a similar situation.

The three sessions saw members of the audience lament the lack of help to deal with this problem, but the discussions produced several viable suggestions on what can be done.

While there is some help available in Singapore, most do not know about it, and it was suggested a list of available help avenues be listed in Catholic publications. Increasing awareness of the problem in our Catholic community was also strongly encouraged. This could be done through exhibitions in public areas or in parishes.

The most pressing concern raised was the need to educate parents on the dangers of pornography, how to detect the possibility of the problem in their children, and how to address the problem when it arises.

Other ideas raised included:

- forming support groups formen and women whose spouses are addicted to pornography;

- asking Archbishop Nicholas Chia to write a pastoral letter on the subject to be read out at Masses at all parishes here;

- boycotting products that promote pornography through their advertisements and images;

- working with leaders of other religions in Singapore to deal with the problem on a societal level;

- forming a diocesan team to look into addressing the problem;

- getting parishes to invite the Family Life Society to give talks in their parishes about the dangers of pornography, and the purpose of human sexuality

- praying for pornography addicts.

Brother Michael Broughton put it best when he shared that he "assumed that every boy he encounters has viewed pornography" on a regular basis. However, he noted that "making an intervention (in the lives of those affected) is not reserved for the experts". On the contrary, "pornography is everyone's business", he added, because it affects the lives of everyone.

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Audience response

Terence Chua, 18, is a member of the Church of Christ the King's Theatre of God ministry, who attended all three sessions. He said that "pornography is rampant here" and that the sessions "answered all my questions" about pornography.

Edwin Rio, 40, a father of two said that the sessions have "opened my mind and broadened my horizons".

Monica Chua, 46, said, "Now I know what pornography is and how it affects relationships," she said. "I can educate my children and share this with other parents."

Patrick Goh, 52, found the sessions "enlightening", that "it is good that the church is now looking into it".

How you can get involved

Those who wish to obtain more information on pornography may visit http://pornfree.wordpress.com for a list of websites, resources, and avenues in Singapore to turn to for help.

The fourth "Porn Stars @ CANA" session was a presentation of the Catholic Church's solution to the problem of pornography. Dr John Hui (Catholic Medical Guild) and moral theologian Father David Garcia gave an introduction to Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, which explains the true meaning and purpose of human sexuality. It was held at CANA - The Catholic Centre on Thursday Apr 12, 7.15pm.

FrHenrySiew.jpgBeing mindful of what you saw and how you say it can help enhance your spousal relationship, writes Father Henry Siew.

HONEYMOON PERIODS ARE blissful as spouses are oblivious to each other's imperfections. After that, spouses try to hide their shortcomings and pretend not to notice them in the other. But soon they no longer bother to conceal their shortcomings and each becomes acutely aware of the other's faults. Failure to accept each other's frailties and weaknesses will generate irritation and resentment, and the couple many end up criticizing and hurting each other.

Vicious cycle of accusations

Here's an example:

After some weeks of pestering from his wife to fix the broken tap in the bathroom, Mr Lee felt inspired one weekend to fix it. He spent an entire morning working on it but his efforts did not pay off; instead it created a mess. Mrs Lee became upset and accused him of being "good for nothing", and said that she "cannot trust him for any important thing". This angered Mr Lee as he felt his good intentions and hard work were not appreciated. The couple had a harsh verbal exchange and refused to talk to each other for days.

Here's another:

Mr and Mrs Lee checked into a hotel during a vacation. Mrs Lee decided to take a shower after Mr Lee had taken his. She screamed as soon as she turned on the tap. "Whoa!!! The water is so hot, why did you not tell me?"

Defensively, Mr Lee responded, "Why are you screaming like a child. Can you not check the water temperature yourself?"

"Idiot, you almost burned me to death!" she replied. A heated argument followed. Their holiday was ruined.

Now, if Mr Lee had responded with a caring tone, their interaction pattern would have been quite different. One can easily fall into the trap of using harsh and belittling words to attack a spouse, to question each other's goodness and competency.

The consequence is that the spouse under attack will feel he/she has no choice but to hit back, and both end up wounded.

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The immense power of words

Words are powerful and they can make or break a relationship.

If you cherish your spousal relationship, be watchful of what you say. As Scripture says, "To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble." (Proverbs 21:23)

The following are examples of how negative remarks can hurt and be detrimental to good spousal relationship:

- "Forget it! There's nothing to be upset or annoyed about!"

By saying this, you deprive your spouse the ownership of her feelings, that she is not entitled to them. How then do you expect her to share her inner self trustingly with you? Or that you will grow in mutual understanding?

- "What lousy taste you've got… this outfit looks terrible!"

You are questioning his competency, even on "small things" such as selecting his clothing. You run him down and make him feel inadequate. How can you expect him to confidently perform his role as a husband and father?

- "Stop dreaming about having your own floral shop!"

You are saying that she cannot hope for better and be successful, that she is not good enough. Then how can you expect her to progress as a person and bring "added value" to your relationship?

- "Take a look at yourself before you dare join the Neighbourhood Vigilante Corps!"

You are questioning his good will and ability, and discouraging him from being of service to others. Do you want him to be closed in and isolated? Then how can you expect your relationship with him to be open and mutually enriching?

- "You are like your mother, vain and superficial!"

You are casting her in a mould, labelling her and fixing her with various undesirable characteristics. Then how do you expect her to be otherwise in her relationship with you?

Insensitive and critical remarks often result in a tense situation. The responding person can choose to react with "an eye for an eye"; or to choose avoiding counter-criticism, acknowledge the other person's unhappy feelings hidden in those remarks, and work towards reconciliation.

When responding, it is wise to say "I feel", "I hope", "I need", etc. Avoid using accusing or interrogating phrases like "You are so…", "Why did you…", "Who do you think you are…" Retaliatory responses beget more ill feelings; whereas an understanding approach calms storms.

Being mindful of what you say and how you say it can help enhance your spousal relationship.

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend.

Father Alfred Chan loves his books because they help him prepare his homilies.

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By Joyce Gan

I KNEW I had found Father Alfred Chan's office when I saw the thousands of books - books squeezed in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that lined the office walls; books on the desk; and books covering much of the floor, leaving space for only his desk and a couple of chairs, and a path for a person to move along.

CatholicNews had been informed that Father Alfred had an impressive collection of 7,000 books and we were curious to see the collection. Is it true that he has 7,000 books? I asked Father.

"Of course not!" he said, giving me an incredulous look. "What you see here [in this office] is only one-third of what I have," he explained. "I have about 20,000 books in my collection!"

The rest of the 20,000 books were in his bedroom and the toilet where he had built bookshelves. The collection, made over 40 years, comprise fiction and non-fiction, books about plants and animals, books on nonya culture, comics and illustrated books, books in Chinese and Malay, and, naturally, books on philosophy and religion. He has not read every book from cover to cover, but every one of them is a reference source.

"I find books very useful for my preaching," Father Alfred said. He loves literature and poetry too because he can extract quotes from them for his sermons.

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Father Alfred Chan, Assistant Priest at Church of St. Bernadette shares his passion for reading and collecting books, a love he has nurtured for the last four decades.

"It's the way the author expresses himself through various aspects of life that touch me," Father Alfred explained. "If I can connect them to my sermons, I deliver it. One good thing about me is that I remember quotations after reading them."

Father Alfred is particularly fond of children's fables and folklores, which, he said, all have adult messages in them. Most importantly, "they tell you the truth", he added. "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and "The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams are two of his favourite books and he even uses them to teach.

He believes in bibliotherapy, a form of psychotherapy in which carefully selected reading materials are used to help a person to solve a personal problem or for therapeutic purposes. There are many lessons to be learnt from books, he said. "This book therapy is for people in different situations in life," he explained. For example, "The Lives of Saints" not only helps him preach, the stories inspire him in his life too.

A collection of books on the lives of many great men and how they became great through their hard work and perseverance, by Samuel Smiles, are among his favourites.

"After I read a great book, I feel elated and want to try to imitate a portion of the [good values] in that book," Father Alfred said enthusiastically.

This love of good books and a passion to share them with others sometimes lead him to buy more than one copy of a title. He personally buys two copies of "a good book" and 20-30 copies of a "very good book" so he can give them away. There is one "great book" he cherishes, "How to Read a Book" - which he bought 400 copies of.

"Now I'm left with only one to two!" he exclaimed. "I give books in the hope that someday those I give them to will step into a bookshop (and cultivate the love for reading)."

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Father Alfred started really reading only when he was 17 and it was not until he was 22 and in the seminary that he started reading seriously. He has not stopped since.

He goes to Borders and Kinokuniya, as well as secondhand bookshops every week, browsing through Christian books mostly. Sometimes, he asks friends going overseas to buy books he is looking for. When overseas he would buy books.

"Each city I go to, I try to buy one good book and then I'll write down the name of that town or city in my book for keepsake," he recalled. He has not travelled much since a stroke four years ago when he was teaching at the seminary.

That day, overcome by exhaustion, he slept for 30 hours straight. When he awoke, he knew something was amiss and called for then-seminarian, Father Valerian Cheong, to send him to the hospital. There, he was told that he had suffered a stroke, one that he should have died from after five hours of sleep.

He was transferred to Church of St. Bernadette after his recovery because it is the only parish in Singapore that requires little or virtually no climbing of steps.

"Thank God I didn't lose my sense of speech," Father Alfred said in gratitude. Although no longer very mobile, he is happy that he can still be active, and attends St. Vincent de Paul meetings, Bible classes, Taize prayers, catechism classes and RCIA.

"I don't feel tired at all. I can work and work," he said.

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Another consolation is that he has his books for company. The joy this brings him was clearly shown when he took me for a tour of his room. Shelves lined the room, leaving space only for his bed. He sleeps surrounded by his favourite books.

In his collection are 40 editions of St. Augustine's "Confessions" and a 60-volume "Great Books of the Western World".

Other favourites are: "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "Books of great men in history" by Samuel Smiles, "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo, and "Don Quixote" by Cervantes.

He is now reading "The Monk and the Book" by Megan Hale Williams about how St. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic into Latin.

He shared how saddened he is when he goes house-blessing and sees all the beautiful ornaments on display but no books. "Even if there are, they are only in the bedrooms whereas books should be on display in halls, for people to see and read!" he exclaimed. Will he ever sell his books?

"If someone makes me an offer to buy my books, I will look him in the face and say, 'No.' because these books are all painfully searched for. I walked for miles and miles in London, Boston… to find them," he said.

How about loaning books?

"I'm most scared if people want to borrow my books!" he admitted. "Books are hard to part with because I've got personal writings and annotations in it." Father Alfred has collected three volumes of quotations, gleaned from his books over the years, and might publish them someday so that others might enjoy and benefit from the words and thoughts of wise men, and his labour of love.

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Adelina Loo sponsors her husband, Ignatius Tham, on the RCIA journey and is rewarded with more than she had dared to expect.

THIS EASTER HAS a special meaning to me. It is a day that I have been looking forward to for 10 years - the day that my husband, Ignatius, will attend Mass not merely as a companion but to partake in the Communion with me!

Though I have been a Catholic for 12 years, having to juggle studies and work and the constant pursuit of reaching yet another higher level of the corporate ladder had turned me into an occasional Catholic. Attending Mass had never been a priority.

Left, Adelina Loo and Ignatius Tham consecrated their wedding in preparation for Ignatius' baptism at Easter, a dream come true for the couple.

While I did pray for the strengthening of my faith during the 12 years, the prayers were more of a "casual talk" with God. It was our way of communicating since my childhood. However in mid-2005, the spiritual part of me started to wake up. I chose to ignore it. But the calling got stronger. Finally, in early March 2006, I decided to heed that calling to renew my faith through RCIA.

It was Ignatius' birthday. I took that opportunity to send him an e-card to convey my intention to join the RCIA as it was, after all, a 15-month journey. Though I did not expect any objection, I was not hoping for enthusiastic support either, given Ignatius' nonchalant attitude towards Catholicism.

Guess what? Two days later, I got my prayers answered, a surprise present from him (God). I received an e-card from Ignatius informing me that he was ready for the faith and would like to join me for the RCIA. It was the most shocking news I've received, you bet!

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Sometimes we couldn't stop wondering how thing could happen so "coincidentally" and timely? In April 2005, something unimaginable happened. Ignatius' parents who had always been fervent Taoists, decided to send their ancestors' and deities' altars to the temple. Somehow, that action gave Ignatius a never-before sense of relief.

In February 2006, we were invited to attend a friend's infant's baptism. That baptism was the perfect plan of God, and the seed of conversion was finally planted into Ignatius. Since that Mass, he felt a strange closeness to God, one that grew stronger with each passing day. So, here we are! Journeying together, growing and renewing our faiths.

This journey has not only deepened our understanding of the Catholic faith, it has also recharged us with new found strength, rekindled the fire in us, and has opened our hearts and minds to the people around us.

Seeing our fellow parishioners having deep faith in God despite facing great difficulties in their lives and not losing hope in God when things do not go their way have been the most heartening.

While we experienced joy, hope and love, our RCIA journey had not been without its difficulties. We also experienced sadness and illnesses.

For someone who only took two days medical leave once yearly/bi-yearly; falling ill every month since the start of the journey was definitely trying spiritually. On the other hand, Ignatius was constantly faced with a battle of faith versus logic. Questions like "Did Jesus really create these miracles? Did he really die for our sins? Did Adam and Eve really exist?" kept coming into his mind.

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Coupled with my constant sickness, his faith wavered and he contemplated quitting the journey. We prayed for strength, and strength we found in the Book of Job. The support from the RCIA team was especially important to us. So, we regained our ground and here we are, almost reaching the end of the RCIA journey. Though I'm still being tested with constant sickness, we have faith in God.

With our deepening faith, we were able to experience God's unfaltering and unconditional love. And it is this love that brings about a new beginning to our love and married life. From a marriage full of squabbles over every other issue, be it big or small, we have come to acknowledge each other's shortcomings and be there for each other in good and bad times.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had my dream come true! We consecrated our wedding in church last September, as required by the church in order for Ignatius to be baptized. Though it was a simple ceremony with no wedding gown and lavish decorations, it was the most heavenly wedding celebration we had, as compared to our Registry of Marrriage and customary Chinese ceremony.

Our wedding hymn, "Where Love is Found", says it all. The last month of preparation towards baptism has been intense but enlightening. The three scrutinies helped us reflect on our lives deeply, and the intercessions during Sunday Masses have further assured our Elect that the whole Catholic community are with them in their preparation.

We found that active participation in church activities and strong support from the church community are vital in strengthening our faith and bringing us closer to God. As the RCIA is drawing to a close, we are already looking into other areas to further assimilate into the Catholic community.

For a start, we attended our first monthly group rosary prayer session in our neighbourhood. Also, when planning for our holiday overseas, visiting churches and attending Mass have formed part of the itinerary. It is our proactive way of bringing God into our lives.

The RCIA journey has not only given us the opportunity to learn about the Catholic faith, it is also a chance for non-Catholics and lay Catholics like us to reflect upon ourselves, our relationship with the people around us, and it brings us closer to God.

Finally, if there is one thing that we want to say to God now, it is "thank you". You have miraculously opened our hearts and minds, have healed and strengthened our relationship, and have brought us closer to you in YOUR own ways.