JUNE 2006

Bowling.jpgArchbishop Nicholas Chia rolls off the Inter-Parish Bowling Tournament organized by Archdiocesan Commission for Migrants and Itinerant People recently. Some 250 Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians and Sri Lankan foreign workers and local parishioners had a rolling good time at the full-day affair at Victor's Super Bowl. Archbishop Chia thanked the Commission for gathering the migrants and locals together and giving them a chance to mingle in a fun and cordial setting.

SINGAPORE - A bioethical seminar jointly organized by the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore, and Family Life Society was held at the Catholic Junior College on May 27.

The "Euthanasia Seminar - Killing Or Caring" covered issues such as euthanasia, palliative care, the Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) Act, end-of-life care and issues related to it. The purpose of the seminar was to help Catholics to "be empowered to make an informed choice" about such issues," said Dr John Hui, Master of the Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore.

"Euthanasia is defined as an action or an omission which of itself or by itself causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated," said Dominican Father David Garcia, who is working towards his Ph.D. in Moral Theology.

"Treatment with painkillers to shorten life is morally wrong," he said to the 130-strong audience, "but using [painkillers] to relieve pain is licit, even if the side effect is the shortening of life."

He also assured the audience that "refusal of disproportionately burdensome medical treatment is not killing", just an acceptance of the human condition. He added that "doctors can judge this by comparing the expected results with the strain or suffering put on the patient".

Dr Chan Yeow, a consultant anaesthesiologist and an intensive care physician in the National Neuroscience Institute in Tan Tock Seng Hospital spoke on aspects of euthanasia in the intensive care centre where he works. Based on his experiences with patients who had gone through intensive care, he said that for such patients, suffering is "an opportunity to receive love" from family, friends, doctors and nurses, and is an opportunity for family members to show love.

Dr Ian Leong, a consultant geriatrician, with a special interest in chronic pain, at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, reminded the audience that "euthanasia only applies to those who are dying". "The problem of defining death is only a problem if you want to end a person's life," he said. "It is not a concern if your aim is to continue to care."

The Catholic Church's answer to end-of-life issues lay not in the use of euthanasia but in "palliative care for the terminally ill", explained Dr Rilly Ray. Palliative care concentrates on reducing the severity of the symptoms of a disease or slows its progress rather than providing a cure. It aims at improving the patient's quality of life by reducing or eliminating pain and other physical symptoms, enabling the patient to ease or resolve psychological and spiritual problems, and supporting the partner and family.

By Venessa Lee

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THE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING. In the space of about 22 years, around 1.3 million people have been forced to leave their homes in Sri Lanka, battered by a civil war and a tsunami. How to help so many refugees? One answer, provided by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), is to help them one at a time, and as many as possible.

Left, refugee children have very little but still retain their innocence and hope.

In the past one-and-a-half years, the international organization has been providing social support for more than 150,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in both Sri Lanka and neighbouring India.

One area of support is education. According to JRS Sri Lanka's 2005 annual report, nearly 47,000 children - from pre-school to A-level students - have benefited from JRS' educational programmes, which include assistance for orphans.

The mission of JRS is to accompany, serve and plead the cause of all refugees and forcibly displaced persons. Among those who have benefited are 110 Muslim students affected by the 2004 tsunami, who are given monthly scholarships. One Muslim student told JRS Sri Lanka Director Father Vinny Joseph, SJ: "I never thought I would get a monthly scholarship from JRS, I thought it was only for Catholic students."

JRS also provides vocational training for 502 youths who will eventually become tailors, electricians and mechanics. A civil war that lasted 18 years and a tsunami that wreaked havoc in seven minutes have taken their toll on future generations in Sri Lanka. More than 65,000 people have been killed in the conflict and the killer waves claimed about 31,000 lives.

JRS has helped some of those left bereft by distributing loans to widows, handicapped people, villagers, farmers and fishermen. These loans have helped more than 3,100 families regain their livelihood by starting small businesses and agricultural and fishing projects. Recovering from trauma also involves a mental reconciliation with it.

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In JRS' "human resource development programmes", counsellors and future community leaders in Sri Lanka are trained to work through personal loss and inculcate nonviolent values. "Training in non-violent communication helps future generations say 'no' to violence," says JRS.

Some 5,560 people of all ages benefit from these human resource programmes. Archbishop of Singapore Nicholas Chia visited Sri Lanka with some members of JRS Singapore in 2004, mere weeks before the tsunami struck on Dec 26, 2004. The Archdiocesan Crisis Coordination Team has contributed funds to assist tsunami victims and JRS has delivered emergency relief aid to more than 88,000 victims.

Today, post-tsunami Sri Lanka faces problems of a different sort: a possible resumption of war. A four-year truce seems stretched to breaking point with peace talks in April 2006 shelved and deadly attacks in recent months, especially in the traditional war zones in the north and east. JRS Sri Lanka staff members have been beaten up on two occasions.

Father Vinny concluded that "the situation in the North East has degenerated into lawlessness". As JRS continues to do its often dangerous work in Sri Lanka, we in Singapore can help with our prayers and donations.

If you are interested to help in the work of JRS, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Cheques can be made in favour of Jesuit Refugee Service Singapore and sent c/o Father Colin Tan, SJ, Kingsmead Hall, 8 Victoria Park Road, Singapore 266492.

JRS programmes/facilities in Sri Lanka No. of beneficiaries
Educational programmes

(schools/assistance for orphans/scholarships)

46,944 people
Human resource development programmes

(training for teachers and leaders/counselling)

5,560 people
Life skills centre (training in crafts/hygiene) 424 people
Centre for physically challenged children 18 people
Vocational training centre

(training for tailors/electricians/motor mechanics)

502 people
Production centre 128 people
Live(for villagers, fishermen, widows, disabled persons) 3,177 families
Construction (homes/schools) 505 people
Self-help group (micro-credit scheme) 400 people
Assistance for refugees returning from India 1,257 people
Human rights and peace programme 4,041 people
Tsunami emergency relief 88,571 people
Total no. involved 151,527 people

All figures have been taken from the JRS Sri Lanka Annual Report 2005.

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SINGAPORE - Six young priests (those with less than five years' experience) from Singapore were in Kuching from May 8 to 12, with 25 other young deacons and priests from Malaysia for a week of fellowship, prayers, sharing and formation as they searched together for an answer to God's call to them as priests.

Left, from top left, Fathers Kenny Tan, Damian De Wind, Valerian Cheong, Luke Fong, Brian D'Souza and Bruno Saint Girons joined 25 other young deacons and priests from Malaysia (right) at a retreat in Kuching.

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The Kuching hosts had planned a very well organized programme, Father Bruno Saint Girons, MEP said, especially when it melds together a discovery of the local culture and church. Jeffrey Goh, a lay married man trained in theology, gave a talk on some of the new theological trends and discussed crises the church faces in recent times, such as issues of sex scandals and financial mismanagement.

Two priests of the Kuching diocese addressed inculturation and priestly life issues. Bishop John Ha helped clarify questions on the relation between a bishop and his priests. The young priests had their share of adventure as well. They toured Iban longhouses, where the former head hunters used to dwell, enjoyed cultural dances and rice wine, and trekked to a Catholic pilgrimage centre amidst a Bidayuh (an ethnic group) environment at the top of a mountain - a centre with two priests and 90 outstations for some 30,000 Catholics.

Father Bruno added that the Singaporean priests returned home rejuvenated with extra motivation to serve in their parishes.

By Joyce Gan

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Although Father Ambrose Vaz does not belong to any parish, approximately 800 people came to celebrate his Sacerdotal Silver Jubilee at Church of the Risen Christ on Jun 5, a sign of the high esteem held for him by Singapore Catholics.

Father Ambrose Vaz, right, who was ordained on Jun 5, 1981, celebrates his Sacerdotal Silver Jubilee with elder brother Msgr Eugene Vaz, whom the younger brother regards as a "good big brother, an inspiration". Photo by Dominic Wong

MANY OF THOSE who came have encountered him at his very popular Scripture classes held at their parish or at the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI), or through his ministries such as Engaged Encounter, CHOICE or Retrovaille.

Father Vaz's dedication to his vocation led Archbishop Nicholas Chia to make him an example of what a fine priest should be and how a good priest should tend to his flock. Praising Father Vaz's humility, Archbishop Chia told the congregation at the Thanksgiving Mass how Father Vaz readily went wherever he was needed, including leaving for Biblical Studies in Catholic University of America, Washington D. C. (and later the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome) and "became a very good biblical scholar for the archdiocese".

The archbishop was aware of how Father Vaz might have enjoyed parish work after his return from the U.S. but the archdiocese "saw the need for his help with the formation of seminarians so we posted him to Rome for further studies". "He is someone who did not look for things to satisfy himself with but he looks for the good of the diocese - a quality all priests should have," he said.

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Father Vaz is currently the Director of the Singapore Archdiocese Biblical Apostolate Team. He lectures on biblical studies at SPI every Monday night and Tuesday morning, and he gives talks on Scripture in parishes where he is invited. Since 2005, he is also a full-time formater and lecturer in Sacred Scripture at the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary. And still he finds time to respond to requests for help, counselling and spiritual direction.

To this, Archbishop Chia said, "He is not sophisticated," drawing laughter from the congregation at Father Vaz's grin, "but he is very humble. A simple person. All wonderful qualities. These are part of the reflections of Christ." And this is why Father Vaz has become a great influence to many people in various parishes, he added.

The archbishop reminded the priests who had come to join in the celebrations that people from all vocations come to priests because they want to seek God and the "spirituality of a priest is ultimately to reflect God". It is this deep spirituality that enables Father Vaz to communicate effectively about Christ to the many people who have encountered him.

Father Vaz knows the deeper meaning of sacred Scripture that he teaches, the archbishop said, that is the "Word of God is not just a written word… and Father Vaz has shown himself true to his vocation. He gave himself to really be a true disciple and follow God's footsteps". The archbishop concluded by saying that Father Vaz is "really one of the outstanding priests we have in Singapore".

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Father Ambrose Vaz said his source of strength comes from the very community he ministers to. "You people of God, are examples of God's faithfulness and I am touched by so many of you - generally people who are striving to be obedient to God and it reminds me of my own call," he said during his Thanksgiving speech after Mass.

"It makes a difference when the people we minister to, themselves, minister to me. If at all I am praiseworthy, it is because of what you have done for me." "God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity," he said as he pondered how there were many things that he would have wanted to steer differently in his life.

Citing the archbishop's example, Father Vaz laughed about how he had enjoyed parish work and was not keen on studying, only to be chosen to be sent overseas for Scripture studies and Hebrew and Greek, no less!

"I would have written the script [in my life] a different way but coming back, I know if I had insisted on my way, I would not have enjoyed the joys of sharing the Word of God. And there are so many such examples in my years of priesthood. God will always remain faithful," he reiterated and told the congregation this was why he chose "Faithfulness" as a theme for his celebration. "When I was ordained 25 years ago, the excitement I felt was like that of God speaking to Moses through the burning bush - there was an exuberance, challenge and honour to walk in God's footsteps.

After 25 years, the excitement is still the same and indeed, all that I thought would happen, did. The new excitement is that God was with me through that 25 years," Father Vaz reflected.

Looking back, he knows that the journey has not always been easy. But he recognizes that "God never calls us to difficulty if he wasn't going to lead us through it". If anything, Father Vaz shared that the high points of his priesthood were closely associated with challenges - "when God could show his presence working in us and through us," he said.

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He thanked the many people who have made a difference in his life and acknowledged that it was his privilege to have worked with them in the different ministries. After Father Vaz thanked his father, who is 93 this year, he visibly grappled with his emotions. "I miss my mum," he finally said. "But I know she is not missing out on this celebration because I am confident of where she is now, or rather who she is with - the Lord."

He spoke firmly, with conviction, to the nods of many heads. A celebration dinner was held at Fortunate Restaurant across the street from Risen Christ parish after Mass and no less than 75 tables were fully occupied. There was a video footage that chronicled his life, as well as performances and singalongs. Father Vaz's childhood secrets were shared by his family, including elder brother Msgr Eugene Vaz, to the cheers and laughter of all present.

Both brothers credited their faith life to their family's nurture and they took the opportunity to encourage vocations. "Parents here who are touched by the celebration and my brother may encourage young boys to follow their vocation call. There are vocations - they are all in our homes and it's only a matter of nurturing them onwards," said Msgr Eugene Vaz, whom Father Vaz described as a "good big brother, an inspiration who saw me through [the last 25 years]".

Father Ambrose Vaz echoed the same views. "My wish today is that many young men can recognize God calling you. He is not out of reach. Parents, don't look at children as dividends or retirement plans. The best thing you can have, is to have your son as a priest. If your son is called, let him go." Those interested in vocations would feel assured by what he wrote on the priesthood in the commemorative book prepared for his Silver Jubilee: "I did not feel the 'loss' of another way of life as a sacrifice. Even today, I am aware of what I have to 'surrender', but the privilege of serving Him more than makes up for the 'surrender'."