Father Gregoire van Giang was with Nguyen Tuong Van during the last minutes before his execution for drug trafficking. "Rejoice with me," he would say "I have found my sheep that was lost." In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance." (Luke 15:4-7)
SINGAPORE - "I don't want you all to be sad [and] there's no need to blame anyone." This was the final message Nguyen Tuong Van had asked Sister Gerard Fernandez, rgs, to share with the congregation that he believed would assemble later that day at his funeral Mass. Sister Gerard, Coordinator for the Roman Catholic Prisons Ministry, was with him that Dec 2 morning, the day of his execution at Changi prison for drug trafficking.
He was aged 25. Nguyen had wanted to thank everyone for all their prayers, caring and love, Sister Gerard told the almost 400 people gathered at the Good Shepherd Convent at Marymount, Thomson Road, for Nguyen's funeral Mass just hours after he was executed. He had requested the congregation to celebrate that he had gone to meet the Lord in a peaceful and happy way, Sister Gerard continued.
This proved too much for some in the congregation to bear and many wept openly. Father Gregoire van Giang, from Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, recalled how Nguyen was smiling and joyful even in the last minutes of his life.
He spoke of how touched he was by Nguyen's readiness and zeal in the faith. "His last words to me were, "This is just a goodbye. I'm going to our Father's house and I expect us to see each other again'," he said. Father Gregoire had visited Nguyen in prison for the last three years and had baptised him on Aug 17, 2004, on his 24th birthday.
He was at the execution. "I am very proud of his strong faith," Father Gregoire added. "He told me, "If I have the opportunity, I will dedicate my life to go all over the world to share my experience with all the youths'".
Father Gregoire addressed Nguyen's Vietnamese family and friends in their native language before finally exhorting all present to "Celebrate! Celebrate his new life!"
The atmosphere was emotionally charged as the congregation attempted to do just that despite their grief. This ability to mourn and rejoice at the same time was nothing short of a "mystery of our faith" said Father Paul Pang, CSsR in his homily. "In the flesh we mourn, but in the spirit we rejoice!" We rejoice for Nguyen, who had come to believe in Jesus as his Lord, he said. Father Pang told the congregation how Nguyen was called to be baptised a year ago, when Sister Gerard Fernandez had held his hand and sang the "Ave Maria" on a visit.
This gesture moved him so profoundly that he started to cry and asked to be baptised as a Catholic. Nguyen took the name Caleb at his baptism, after a biblical figure in the Book of Numbers who had invincible faith in God's promise that he would give the Promised Land to his people, despite obstacles that seemed to loom threateningly. "Even before today, our brother Caleb had through faith reconnoitered the Promised Land, not of Canaan but of heaven. Caleb, by his faith and courage in the face of death, like the biblical Caleb after whom he is named, is urging us not to be afraid to enter into eternal life," Father Pang said.
He remembered Nguyen's mother, Kim, in his homily as he gently comforted her and urged her on to approach Mary, the Mother of Sorrow. "No one can fully feel with you, your sorrow"¦ except another mother, Mother Mary. She understands fully your pain," Father Pang spoke.
Although Kim had suffered much through Nguyen's last days, she appeared collected through the Mass. As the congregation bade farewell to Nguyen, they were reminded not to take too long so that she could spend a little more time with her son. Where the media had carried the much-debated issue of the death penalty before, there was no mention of it at the Mass.
As Father Pang said, the people were gathered simply to celebrate Nguyen's conversion to become a better man in Christ. An observer noted that Nguyen has fulfilled the lyrics to his favourite song that was played - "Better Man" by Robbie Williams. One can almost imagine him singing as the words echoed through the chapel, "As my soul heals the shame, I will grow through this pain. Lord, I'm doing all I can, to be a better man."
TODAY, WE ARE with Kim Nguyen and Khoa in their deep sorrow at the execution of Van. As we try desperately to soften a mother's pain at the loss of her son, we grapple with the reality of the death penalty. The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and it violates the right to life. Each life is always precious, even when punishment is required. While we want to make our streets drug-free and safe for our children, should it be at the expense of terminating the life of a person? Punishment and justice must always include mercy. We join the many voices throughout the world in appealing to our leaders to search for alternatives to the death penalty.
Sister Susan Chia
Good Shepherd Sisters
Province of Singapore-Malaysia
Christmas is in the air. At Orchard Road and elsewhere, the malls and shopping centres are decorated and sales promoted. Restaurants offer gourmet meals. It is nice to have beautiful decorations, new apparels and good food, but all these things project an individualistic, secularised and materialistic celebration. There is no focus on the true spirit of Christmas - the spirit of GIVING rather than receiving.
There is a story of a young married couple who were very much in love. Christmas was approaching and they wanted very much to give a present to one another. But they were very poor and had no money to buy presents. So each one without telling the other decided to sell his or her most precious possession.
The girl prized above all her long golden hair. She went to a hairdresser and had it cut off and sold it to buy a lovely watch chain for her husband's watch. He in the meantime went and sold his watch to buy a beautiful ivory comb for his beloved's hair.
On Christmas they exchanged their gifts. At first they cried, then they laughed. There was no watch for the watch chain, no hair for the comb!
But there was something more precious and that was the idea behind their gifts. Each had deprived self of the best to give the other.
This story reflects the meaning of Christmas. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son and Jesus loves us so much that he became one of us in all things but sin in order to redeem us from our sins.
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At Christmas we celebrate God's gift to us and our hearts are filled with gratitude. However at the same time we must ask ourselves what gift we can we offer to God in return.
Perhaps we can learn from the example of the Magis, the three Wise Men. They offered gifts of GOLD, FRANKINCENSE and MYRRH.
GOLD - what is the most precious gift we can offer? Time dedicated to God and in the service of our fellowmen; digging deep into our pockets to help the less fortunate.
FRANKINCENSE - uniting ourselves with the Lord by devout prayers and frequent participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and uniting ourselves with him in the reception of the Holy Eucharist which is the source and summit of our Christian life.
MYRRH - offering sacrifices to make the lives of our fellow men more meaningful by acts of humility, patience, compassion, kindness and self-control.
Let us remind ourselves that Christmas is the celebration of God's great gift to us and let us not forget to offer him something that is precious to us. Give from your heart and Christ will enter into your life. Christmas will be Christ-mas for you.
He left heaven's glory
For you and for me
He came to give life
Abundant and free
He died on the cross
Our souls to redeem
He lives and he reigns
As our Saviour and King.
This Christmas may you see and know anew
Just how great his love is toward you.
A Blessed Christmas to you!
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Archbishop Nicholas Chia
Above, this man is a beneficiary of a housing project funded by ACCT in Banda Aceh. Where home was a tent after the tsunami, it is now a proper house.
SINGAPORE - One year after the tsunami disaster on Dec 26, 2004, life is slowly being restored in the devastated areas. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the worst hit areas, the Singapore Archdiocese Crisis Coordination Team (ACCT), which was formed early this year to coordinate archdiocesan response to crises like the tsunami, continues to play an important role.
Its responsibilities include the collection and disbursement of funds and monitoring their usage.
"Preference is [given] to areas where other aid is less forthcoming, where NGOs and government agencies were not or less present," William Chee, ACCT Grants Committee Secretariat explained.
Priority is given to projects that help with rehabilitation and training and provide opportunities to rebuild lives, he added.
Two projects were identified on March 18 this year when Archbishop Nicholas Chia, accompanied by the Knights of Malta, visited Archbishop Anicetus B. Sinaga of Medan. Housing repairs for two villages in Banda Aceh, and repairs to St. Josef Church and schools in the church compound at Lawe Desky, all in Indonesia, have been completed.
"Our aid goes to victims most in need irrespective of race or religion," Mr Chee says. Two non-Catholic organisations that have been funded are Tomorrow's Hope and Habitat for Humanity (HFH).
Most of the funds collected have been disbursed or committed and ACCT is now left in the monitoring mode. However, ACCT has been providing volunteers in addition to funding.
It has organised three trips that involved 40 Catholic volunteers to build houses in Sri Lanka; another 50 volunteers left for Aceh from Dec 11 to 17. Volunteers cover their own expenses.
Right, repairs to St. Josef Church (left) and schools in the church compound at Lawe Desky, Indonesia, have been completed. Lawe Desky villagers will celebrate Christmas Mass in the newly renovated church. ACCT also funded a new cultural centre in Banda Aceh which is being used as a Muslim house of worship and for other community activities.
SINGAPORE - On Sunday Nov 27, people ate, played games and shopped at the Church of the Holy Spirit to raise funds for the Pakistani earthquake victims. Almost $12,000 was collected for these victims through these activities.
This "Fund Fair" known as the "Mosaic of Hope - Rebuild their Worlds, Restore their Hope", was jointly organised by the Focolare Movement and the Outreach Ministry from the Church of the Holy Spirit.
In October, the two ministries (together with the Church of St. Anthony's parishioners) had jointly organised "Run4Unity" in Batam for the youths in Singapore to interact with youths of different cultures, as part of the International United World Week movement (CN, Oct 30).
To nurture these seeds of unity that have been planted during "Run4Unity", the organizers contacted some Muslim friends of the Focolare Movement with the intention to co-organise and co-host "Mosaic of Hope".
"The idea was for youths from different religions to come together to work for a common good," Edmund Ooi, co-ordinator of the Focolare Movement said. Unfortunately, the date for this event was unsuitable for the Muslim youths due to their prior commitment. They still visited the parish for the day though.
"The Church of the Holy Spirit was very generous in offering the usage of the canteen and facilities," Edmund added. Stalls were set up around the church and manned mostly by people from Focolare as well as the Outreach and RCIA ministries from the Holy Spirit parish.
"Mosaic of Hope" coincided with Archbishop Nicholas Chia's appeal for parishes to make a special collection for the victims in Pakistan.