MARCH 2006

Further to Mr Emil Chau's, "Good preaching a must" (CN, 5 March), and Mr Raymond Chia's, " 'Yes' to good homilies" (CN,19 March), I wish to share my views on interesting homilies.

Interesting homilies do make people sit up and pay attention. I find that homilies that make use of anecdotes and tinged with a bit of humour do well. A clever use of such examples will help listeners reflect better on the lesson that is drawn. 

As an example, at Sunday Mass recently, I heard a homily that was based on the difference between 'listening' and 'hearing'. Then, from the general interpretation between these two words, the preacher delved into the relationship between parents, and between parents and members of the family. All of them, adults and children are brought into focus in this homily. A couple of anecdotes followed that touched on the sadness of estrangement in the relationship between members of the family, between parents, and between parents and their children and the emotional poverty of families that only hear but not listen, and the resultant regrets that could have been prevented. In conclusion, the preacher ended with the hopeful note that the church has a programme to help married couples with relationship problems - a fitting call for a response. All in, the effective homily took about 25 minutes.

On another Sunday, a preacher drew my attention to his skilful explanation of the word, 'leprosy'. First, he described the taboo of society in Jesus' time towards the disease. He then cleverly weaved the physical and the psychological pain of societal deprivation the disease brought to the sufferer to juxtapose it with the 'leper' within ourselves: the damage that we bring to ourselves because of our own anger and hate. It was a well delivered homily.

Some preachers kick-start their sermons with a sharp jab to turn faces red, like, "You know that you are in a Catholic church because the front pews are usually empty".  A retired priest ad his inimitable style of presentation. He could use his signature word, 'Stupid', and produce a fitting nuance to whatever this word meant to apply in his sermon. His style was earthy and simple, but effective. 

Depending on the personality of the preacher, each has his style of presentation. Perhaps, one way to give people a chance to hear different speakers is to invite preachers to the parish occasionally. At my parish, it's being done.

Sebastian Teo

Blessed Mother Teresa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, when speaking about love once said: "I was surprised in the West to see so many young boys and girls given into drugs, and I tried to find out why - why is it like that, and the answer was: Because there is no one in the family to receive them.  Father and mother are so busy they have no time.  Young parents are in some institution and the child takes back to the street and gets involved in something."

It is an eye-opener to parents and an invitation to them to take responsibility of their children, nurturing them and ensuring that they live morally upright lives.

They should not outsource their parenting duty to domestic maids and spend most of their time away from home in pursuit of material success.

Parents should ponder on the profound words of  Blessed Mother Teresa to see how they can lovingly bring up their children to be good and responsible citizens.

Speaking about peace, Blessed Mother Teresa remarked, "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself.  And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child - I will not forget you - I have carved you in the palm of my hand.  We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God.  And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible - but even if she could forget - I will not forget you.  And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion."

We are here because our parents wanted us.  We would not be here if our parents had aborted us.

Our children are wanted and loved by us but what of the millions in the world who are dying deliberately by the will of the mother.

As Catholics we should always be pro-Life and have nothing to do with people and organisations who support abortion which according to Mother Teresa is "the greatest destroyer of peace."    Perhaps we could pray for them to have a change of heart and be a respecter and protector of peace.

Nelson Quah

There are some words and phrases that can cause serious problems in a spousal relationship. Father Henry Siew advises of some that should be avoided:

Note: In this article, 'he' and 'him' may be substituted for 'she' and 'her' and vice versa.

IN A THAI village there was a couple who quarrelled often. Finally, they decided to divorce. On their way to the government office to file the divorce application they had to cross a stream. However at the crossing the water was a little deep and the wife hesitated. Without uttering a word, her husband lifted her up and carried her across the stream. When they reached the office, the wife said that she had changed her mind about the divorce. When asked for the reason, she explained, "If we divorce now, who will carry me across the stream when we return home?"

Though told in jest, the story has a moral lesson. We know that married couples will argue, quarrel and fight. But this need not affect the quality of their married life as long as both understand that their love for each other is above these conflicts and they learn how to disagree and avoid words that may cause irreparable hurt.

The following are some examples of what not to say when arguing:

"You are hopeless"

Mrs Lee is envious of other women whose husbands seem attentive to their wives' needs. She often criticises her husband, an engineer, lamenting that he is hopeless, just because he seems to know next to nothing besides his work. Her intention could be to encourage her hubby to learn other skills or take up hobbies. Unfortunately, the result of her frequent complaints is her husband's broken ego.

Everyone of us has his or her weakness, be it in looks, behaviour or ability. We all make mistakes. And we do not like our weaknesses or mistakes to be exposed or highlighted. You should not allow your spouse's "shortcomings" to affect your relationship with him. When you use them as "weapons" to win an argument, you will hurt your spouse and seriously damage the relationship.

The correct way to treat your spouse is to be understanding and supportive.

(continued on page 2)

"It is my misfortune to marry you"

If your spouse loses his job (or has other troubles), focusing on the problems that this will cause you and the family - such as not being able to buy the car you had planned for or having to discontinue your daughter's piano lessons - you would get very disappointed and negative. This might lead you to say words like "I must have been blind to marry you " or "it is my bad luck to be your wife". This will not only hurt the spouse's pride but bring retaliation and jeopardise the relationship.

"Look at so-and-so..."

Comparing your spouse unfavourably with someone else may lead you to say something hurtful like "Our neighbour Mr Tan is so patient, unlike you." or "Look at Lin's husband; he is young and already a general manager; what about you?" Your spouse may keep quiet (but feel extremely embarrassed if he is an introvert), or he may retort with harsh words like "if so-and-so is so good, why don't you marry him". Unfair comparisons, if used often, would be suicidal for marriage. Instead, when your spouse is down, show him understanding and encouragement. He will appreciate the gesture and the relationship will be good.

"It's none of your business"

One of the most treasured elements of a marriage is trust. Just trusting each other will deepen a relationship. The worst enemy of a marriage is suspicion which will cause quarrels and fights. Words like "none of your business" which signal a refusal to share will create misunderstanding and more suspicion.

For example, you come home late and your spouse asks why. You reply with "it is none of your business". You say this maybe because you are tired but your spouse will feel hurt and may even begin to suspect that you are hiding some secrets.

(continued on page 3)

"I don't need you"

Saying "I don't need you" in a serious tone is something not to be taken lightly. Your spouse gets the impression that she is unloved and unwanted. Saying the word "divorce" is even more serious. This word should never be used because it denotes "giving up" and will cast a shadow of despair over the relationship.

Saying "if you hate me so much, let's go our separate ways" for the first time when you quarrel may surprise your spouse and make her stop the fight to ease the tension. However, if this phrase is repeated too often, your spouse may think that you no longer love her or she may even suspect that you are involved with a third party.

Remarks about separation, even if it is not really intended, will affect the relationship, and if not corrected may really end up with separation. One should always be mindful of what you say to your spouse especially during a heated argument. Let your quarrel be for love of your relationship and for better mutual understanding, but never for personal victory.

St. Paul says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Eph 4:29)

FrHenrySiew01.jpg

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

Father Peter Koh, CICM, has just returned from a visit to war-ravaged Congo. Amidst all the suffering, he saw a people determined to go on with life and Catholic missionaries helping them:

BEFORE LEAVING FOR the Democratic Republic of Congo, I sent an email to friends and relatives informing them of my trip and that I would be out of email contact for some time. One of my friends replied with a question, "Where is Congo?"

Congo is a country in Africa with Kinshasa as its capital. It is a country rich in natural resources but the majority of its people live in poverty. Since 1995, it has been ravaged by a civil war that has left the country without an infrastructure and the people even poorer. With that little description, you would have guessed by now Congo is not exactly a tourist destination.

However I am not a tourist. I am a missionary. Where tourists fear to tread is exactly the kind of frontier situation that missionaries are called to work in.

Despite the war in Congo, CICM-Scheut Missions has still about 150 missionaries working in the country. My work as Assistant Treasurer General of CICM-Scheut Missions demands that I visit the countries where we have missionaries to assess the financial needs. And so I spent six weeks in Congo, visiting the CICM missionaries, their works and their projects.

First impressions Congo may be a war-torn country, but the people still have to live. Life has to go on. Daily life for many ordinary Congolese is a struggle. I saw reconditioned trucks bringing in goods from the countryside into the city of Kinshasa. The trucks were stacked high with bags of products and people perched precariously on top of them. The engine groaned under the load.

Near a market I noticed a man carrying a load of about 100 kilograms of maize on his shoulders. His face showed that he was suffering under the strain of the weight. But his eyes showed that he was determined to deliver the load to the market and earn a few francs for his family.

I witnessed a man pulling a homemade cart, made from two discarded wheels of cars, loaded with bags of charcoal. Three other men were pushing from behind. In them I see the Congolese's determination to live, to go on with life, despite the difficulties. Life may be difficult, but the human spirit will not be crushed.

(continued on page 2)

Visiting missionaries

One of the first stops of my visit is a printing shop managed by CICM. Its objective is to print Catholic religious books and school textbooks at an affordable price for distribution in Congo. I was amazed at the age of the machines. They are ancient! Yet, the missionaries have been able to maintain them in a relative good condition and the machines have been faithfully (but slowly due to the age of the machines) churning out books for years.

St. Kizito Parish is located in a poor section of Kinshasa that is managed by two CICM missionaries. The roads leading to the neighbourhood have not been maintained. In the rainy season, only a four-wheel drive can pass without getting stuck in the mud and in the potholes. Even that is no guarantee. However the locals are always eager to help every time a car is stuck in the mud, for a fee of course!

The parish has a small centre for the handicapped and a hospice for the elderly. Every Sunday, a small Christian community offers food during Mass that is destined for the hospice. I was touched by the gesture of the poor sharing from their poverty to help those who are even poorer than them.

I travelled to Menkao, a mission station run by a Belgian and a Guatemalan, 100 kilometres outside of Kinshasa. The two missionaries serve about 60 rural communities spread over a vast territory. In one community that I visited, the people are organising themselves to build a parish school. Every parent will contribute about US$4 for the project. The missionaries are also trying to get outside help for the construction.

I visited an area called Tchad- Mandela, where people from the interior of the country are settling down, building houses and cultivating small plots of maize and tapioca. It is a huge area but there is no school, no clinic, no social infrastructure. A Congolese CICM missionary showed me a plot of land that has been bought and he dreams of setting a small primary school that can also double as a place for worship on Sundays. He also plans to ask a congregation of sisters to start a dispensary there for the people.

I also visited our formation houses, where young Congolese men are being trained to become missionaries. I spent a week with them, listening to their dreams and encouraging them in their vocations. In addition to their studies of philosophy, they also spend a lot of time praying and working in the farm - raising chicken, ducks and rabbits, cultivating maize and groundnuts - to pay the expenses of their formation.

(continued on page 3)

Missionary spirit

Congo is a country of grinding poverty and torn by war, but the Gospel still has to be proclaimed. The sick have to be cared for, the children fed and educated. Churches have still to be built; priests, religious and missionaries have to be formed. I leave Congo with a sense of pride that our missionaries are doing just that.

Top, Catholics receive Communion at a Catholic church in Kinshasa, Congo, in this CNS file photo. Catholic missionaries are doing all they can for the people in this country which has been ravaged by civil war and extreme poverty.

*Editor's note: Father Peter Koh, CICM, should not be confused with Father Peter Koh, parish priest of Church of Christ the King. Father Peter Koh, CICM, has returned to Rome where he is stationed, not Singapore.

 

While Lent is a good time to practise charity, there are many Catholics who do it all the year round. Here are some of them:

Right, migrant workers, well accustomed to the Friday night routine, queue up for a tasty and  balanced meal from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

By Joyce Gan

SINGAPORE - A well-balanced meal that comprises curry vegetable and rice, bread, eggs and a variety of fruit is handed out to approximately 350 migrant workers at Blue Star Dormitory every Friday night - a mission that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) from the Church of St. Ignatius carries out with love from two and a half years ago.

A well-balanced meal that comprises curry vegetable and rice, bread, eggs and a variety of fruit is handed out to approximately 350 migrant workers at Blue Star Dormitory every Friday night - a mission that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) from the Church of St. Ignatius carries out with love from two and a half years ago.

A well-balanced meal that comprises curry vegetable and rice, bread, eggs and a variety of fruit is handed out to approximately 350 migrant workers at Blue Star Dormitory every Friday night - a mission that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) from the Church of St. Ignatius carries out with love from two and a half years ago.

A well-balanced meal that comprises curry vegetable and rice, bread, eggs and a variety of fruit is handed out to approximately 350 migrant workers at Blue Star Dormitory every Friday night - a mission that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) from the Church of St. Ignatius carries out with love from two and a half years ago.

Ten of these members make up the regular distributors. Two cars and one van that is loaded up with food supplies, make the 20- minute journey from the churchto Blue Star Dormitory at Pioneer Road. The ride is peppered with exchanges between members who have grown to become good friends as they catch up on one another's week. They never fail to show up, come rain or shine, unless they are ill, not in Singapore or have some pressing personal matters to attend to.

"We realise we are so blessed compared to the poor migrant workers and we are then motivated to perform our SSVP mission to help the poor and needy," and it is this understanding that inspires Grace, the Secretary of the SSVP, and other members, to return week after week.

A late Paul Chin had first introduced this migrant project to the Church of St. Ignatius nine years ago. Before that, Mr Chin and Father Desmond Reid, SJ, had single-handedly helped the migrants and refugees at the then refugee camp at Hawkins Road. It has almost been a decade since the SSVP took over the task of distributing food to migrant workers and this thriving community still remains tireless.

(continued on page 2)

There are a total of 32 members in the SSVP - 14 men and 18 women, with seven married couples among them. More than half of them are retirees or self-employed. Their initial work was to distribute food, old clothes and medicine to migrants living in various housing areas in Geylang, Lorong 18 and 40. From there, they moved to Norris Road and then to Blue Star Dormitory.

In September last year, they started a new project at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes where they gave migrant Catholics a hot meal every 3rd Sunday of the month after the 6.30pm Tamil Mass.

Migrant workers are the poorest in Singapore, with a net pay of $5 to $15 per day after paying for their accommodation. There are approximately 5,000 of them housed at Blue Star Dormitory. The majority of these workers are Indians, with Thais, Burmese and PRC Chinese workers as well. About ten of them share one room.

The SSVP's efforts do not go unnoticed. "Some will ask where we come from and why we are doing this and this is when we evangelise by telling them that we are from the Catholic church and that we are sharing a meal and some foodstuff with them out of our love and concern. Most regard us as their friends as we have been going there so regularly over the years," Grace says.

This sentiment is shared by all. "We feel a great deal of joy in being able to bring a little cheer to the 350 migrant workers who are ekeing out a meagre living far away from their family and homeland". For now, it seems as if the Blue Star residents are set to enjoy the SSVP's love for some time to come.

This love for their mission is also apparent in the way they comb the surrounding areas for litter that has been left behind by the workers. Together, they tidy the place up a little before they call it a night. Until the next week.