FEBRUARY 3, 2008 Vol 58, No 3

COTABATO, Philippines – An Oblate priest was shot to death when he resisted armed men trying to take him from his southern Philippine mission.

Father Jesus Reynaldo Roda, 53, was praying in the Notre Dame of Tabawan School chapel late Jan 15 when armed men tried to take him away.

Father Roda struggled and resisted. He was beaten, then shot dead, and the armed men also took some valuables from his office before fleeing.

Father Roberto Layson, coordinator of the Oblate interreligious dialogue programme, said Father Roda’s death might have something to do with politicians angered by his work against fraud in last year’s election. Father Roda had received threats recently, but refused an offer of protection, Father Layson added.

Father Roda headed the Oblate mission on Tabawan for 10 years. Tabawan is one of 457 islands that make up Tawi-Tawi province, where nearly 96 percent of the more than 322,000 people counted in the 2000 national census were Muslim.

Father Roda was born in Cotabato province Feb 5, 1954. After his priestly ordination in 1980, he served in a Manila parish, where he set a trend he would follow the rest of his life: working with those he called "the anawim", a biblical reference to lost and forgotten people.

COLIN KANG WAS diagnosed with Thalassemia Intermediate at the age of three. Thalassemia is an inherited recessive blood disease characterized by anemia. Since then the Kang family had made pilgrimages to Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, and Santa Cruz in Malacca, praying with Colin that he would be able to lead a normal life.

Not only was Colin able to live a normal life, but he lived a life that was full of meaning. Everything that he did, he did wholeheartedly.

When he was in Catholic Junior College (CJC), Colin and several schoolmates formed a youth group named "Doulos Adonai", which means "servants of God". Doulos Adonai organized camps and retreats in CJC, the National University of Singapore, and various churches.

Doulous Adonai led Colin to serve in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), where he taught catechism for five years. In 2002, at the suggestion of then-assistant priest Father Brian d’Souza, Colin set up the Post Confirmation Group (PCG) which trained and developed youth leaders over a period of three years to better enable them to serve in their desired ministries thereafter.

Colin believed in the youths and gave of his time to nurture and counsel them. As Father Brian observed, "Colin was instrumental in empowering the youth in the PCG by giving them confidence and exposure to do work at a parish level. He was a person who journeyed with the young people both within and out of the PCG… [This] allowed the youth to be creative for the parish. The young people in the parish were very active because he gave them opportunities to run programmes at parish level."

"I would say that my faith today would not be so deeply rooted in God if not for him… His tenacity for God’s work and his endurance and enthusiasm are what I and the other youths would try to imitate,"says Nicholas Lee, a pioneer member of the PCG.

Since 2003, after surviving a life-threatening operation to remove an abscess of the liver, Colin devoted his time to the youth in IHM.

In 1996, Colin graduated from the University of Buckingham with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours). He was called to the Singapore bar in 1997 and soon after starting practice he set up his own law firm.

Premchand Soman, Colin’s business partner since 2002, says, "A very large proportion of our work was either pro bono or semi-pro bono. Colin used to say that this was the charm of having his own firm. He could not stand by and not help someone when he saw that person was in need.

"He used his skill not just to make a living or to make money. Even though he could have earned a lot more working for someone else, he did not do that because he wanted the freedom to devote his time to his church activities."

Colin particularly enjoyed doing matrimonial work because he felt that he could help people at a very personal level. He was unrelenting and tireless when it came to championing what he thought was a just cause.

Colin was a founder of the Catholic Lawyers Guild (CLG) and was also one of the coordinators of CLG’s Free Legal Clinics and Pro Bono Scheme.

A food lover, mealtime presented opportunities to commune with friends and family. Colin also immersed himself in plays, musicals and travels to foreign lands. To him, every minute counted.

"He wanted to live life to the full," says Christopher DeRoza. "Friends, family, religion, food, he wanted to know everything, to try everything. He gave everything because he felt he did not have time to hold anything back nor did he have any time to waste. He wanted to spend every minute of his life doing something meaningful – whether it was to enjoy companionship with his friends, family, towards work or the church."

Colin felt that the years he had were a bonus and that he had to make the most of them. Gerard, a friend of Colin since Junior College, recalls, "I have never seen Colin pity himself or feel sorry about his condition. He never gave people the impression that he was ill."

It was not that Colin did not have his share of burdens but "what marks him out was the way he carried his cross… always with a cheer, hope and faith in heart," describes Mark Goh, a fellow lawyer and friend.

Life was a mission to Colin. It was a mission that he strove to carry out to the end and to the best of his abilities. He was a very good friend to many… but he did not stop at just helping friends. Genuine compassion impelled him to assist those whom he perceived to be in need.

Son, mentor, counsellor, role model, benefactor, brother, uncle, friend – Colin had been called all these by those who benefited from their encounters with him. - By Noelle Seet

FOR 40 YEARS, I have taunted high school seniors with the problem of God. Given their only recently evolved capacity to reason and its concomitant resistance to authority, it would be easier to market acne. The ethos confirmed them, long before the church did, as relativists ("Up to the individual"), materialists ("Show me!") and pragmatists ("This on the test?").

But I always held the trump card (I thought): the elegant human eye, a near-perfect mechanism whose exquisite parts are pointless without the others. A transparent lens corrects for colour and spherical distortion; an iris diaphragm fine-tunes focus continuously, even for those whose vision is otherwise impaired. The retina’s 125 million colour-coding cells automatically switch among wavelengths. They take three-dimensional colour pictures as long as one can stay awake, and they never need developing or new film. Then images converge into a brain that turns them into abstract ideas. And often if they are damaged they repair themselves. No way could that just "happen" in correct sequence, even with a gazillion lucky chances! It is as close to certainty as one can get that God, not evolution, created the universe. Darwin himself found the eye a puzzlement: "To suppose the eye with all its inimitable contrivances... could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

For 40 years, I was smug as a bug in a rug.

Then, to my chagrin, I found not only that the eye could evolve, bit by infinitesimal bit, but has done so more than once. And the defenders of that capacity were not only apostolic atheists like Richard Dawkins and fair-minded agnostics like Steven Jay Gould, but also an evangelical like Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, and Catholics like the Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller and Jesuit George Coyne, former head of the Vatican Observatory. Evolution had more latitude than I had guessed even from John Paul II’s address "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth" (1996) and Joseph Ratzinger’s "In the Beginning" (1986).

It was like the shock I had studying theology, accepting that snakes never talked, or learning that scientists find the Bohr model of the atom, with its companionably orbiting electrons, as far from actuality as 15th-century maps: not useless, but quite inadequate. I was Alec Guinness standing amid the ruins of his beautiful bridge on the River Kwai.

The unpleasant facts: Limpets have just a few pigmented cells in an eye-spot, but these are effective enough to sense predators. One step up, split-shell mollusks’ eyes recede into pits; the marine snail, the Nautilus, has its focus narrowed by a pinhole lens. Octopuses and most vertebrates have sharp-focus camera eyes just like ours. Using computer mock-ups (and presuming a pre-existent photo-sensitive cell), the Swedish biologists Dan-Erik Nilsson and Susanne Pelger estimated that an animal could go from flat-skin eye to camera-lens eye in less than 500,000 years. Cells have "motive, means and opportunity".

But does Darwin necessarily displace God? For a philosopher, "random" means "haphazard, purposeless"; but for a scientist it merely means "imperfectly predictable", lacking certainty but still constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry and the particular environment. By definition, unexpected changes are a break from what had been pretty much predictable behaviour. And while mutations in a species over vast savannahs of time do arise from purely chance "blips" in cell replication, the selection and continuance of those changes is anything but haphazard. Only changes making the host a better predator (or more elusive prey), a more seductive attraction to mates and provider for young win the chance to continue in the opportunistic game.

So at horse races, experts who study the contenders, controllers and environment make quite confident guesses about outcomes. Similarly, atomic probers track errant electrons, and theologians grapple with the elusive Creator. The astounding rationality of the physical world, coupled with the analytic and imaginative powers of the human mind, give rise to both science and theology – making educated guesses about unseen causes of visible effects. Annie Dillard writes: "What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: Hello?" Newton, Einstein and Heisenberg are like Isaiah, Paul and Rahner in exploring the same terra incognita with approximating tools, assessing all the pertinent factors and taking calculated risks. Despite our inadequate grasp of the divine nature, God would seem the best odds-maker in the universe.

Many believers in creationism and intelligent design balk at yielding much to evolution (or relativity or quantum theory), lest it jettison God after such long service. Atheist evolutionists worsen matters by reminding us that God gave us an appendix with no function but to rupture on occasion, viruses whose sole aim is to destroy, and a world "red in tooth and claw". In "River Out of Eden", Dawkins writes remorselessly: "This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit things might be neither good nor evil. Neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose."

In 2004 the International Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote in "Communion and Stewardship" (No. 69): "According to the Catholic understanding of divine causality... even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation." God did not have to rig natural history so a particular branch of primates would begin to stand up and look around, any more than God had to steer us toward Babylon or Rome or Buchenwald. As Kenneth R. Miller writes: "If we can see God’s will in the flow of history and the circumstances of our daily lives, we can certainly see it in the currents of natural history... Given evolution’s ability to adapt, to innovate, to test, and to experiment, sooner or later it would have given the Creator exactly what he was looking for."

A constantly meddlesome God leads to the Deist "watchmaker" of the 19th century, consolingly purposeful but inflexibly determinist. Our lives would be nothing more than unrolling prewritten scrolls, constantly edited by Someone Else. On the contrary, could it not be that God is more dedicated to freedom than we are comfortable with? God could well get a kick out of watching even genes learning. Divine wizardry is in the power and fecundity of the universe itself.

Science still yields plenty of clues to a Designer, who might not be as intrusive as we have been led to believe. Every planet circles the sun at precisely the one speed that will keep it from drifting into deep space or crashing into the sun. The four fundamental forces in the universe are gravity (the attractive pull of every body), electromagnetism (bonding atoms), the strong nuclear force (binding elements within the nucleus) and the weak force (radioactive decay). If any of these forces were even minutely different, the advent of humans would have been unthinkable. In fact, according to Stephen Hawking, "If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size." Conversely, if gravity were weaker, Big Bang dust would have just continued to expand, never coalescing. If the strong nuclear force were a little weaker, no elements heavier than hydrogen would have formed. If electromagnetism were stronger, electrons would be so tightly bound to atoms, chemical compounds would have been impossible. Any weaker, and atoms would disintegrate at room temperature.

Miller writes: "As God’s great creation burst forth from the singularity of its origin, his laws would have set within it the seeds of galaxies, stars, and planets, the potential for life, the inevitability of change, and the confidence of emerging intelligence." God works not in the intimate, palpable anthropomorphism of Genesis, kneeling in the mud to fashion Adam and turn his rib into Eve, but God is – and always will be – vibrant and at work in every physical law that evolution presumes.

Dawkins flirts with being hoist with his own petard. In "River Out of Eden", he writes, almost huffily:

"We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it hard to look at anything without wondering what it is ‘for’, what the motive for it is, or the purpose behind it. When the obsession with purpose becomes pathological it is called paranoia – reading malevolent purpose into what is actually random bad luck. But this is just an exaggerated form of a nearly universal delusion."

Thus is the core of humanity dismissed as merely bothersome, like an appendix.

But the very term "natural selection" seems a misuse of words, since only an intelligence can assess options and choose. How do we get laws out of luck, predictable "processes" out of brute chance? If what differentiates our species from other animals is learning and altruism, why do Neanderthals still wildly outnumber the wise? The atheist popularizers, of course, never use the word "soul", since the only difference they acknowledge between ourselves and other apes is a smattering of renegade DNA. Even the best Christian philosophers, however, have also contented themselves with the woefully inadequate "rational animals", as if that could account for a MASH unit treating North Korean prisoners or Teihard’s obedient silence.

Atheists like Dawkins and Carl Sagan go way beyond their scientific passports. They are disconcertingly learned, sorcerers of analogy, writers of sinewy prose. But when they depart from "how" into "why", they are way beyond their credentials, like athletes plugging Wheaties. To anyone outside a lab, the difference between humans and our chimp cousins is not simply a measurable difference in DNA.

We are the only creatures we know who are aware we are selves, able to use the future tense and to regret. Other animals know facts, that danger is near, but do not seem to ask why. They give their lives for their own but not, like us, for a principle or for people we do not even like. Only we have hungers not rooted in a needful body or coldly rational mind: to be honourable, to find meaning, to survive death. Ignoring those indisputable facts is the rankest reductionism.

Charles Darwin, brilliant herald of this astonishingly fruitful theory, was less simplistic than some of his ardent disciples. In the final sentence of "The Origin of Species", he concludes:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

Perhaps we might find more motivated belief if we were more at peace with intriguing questions than prefabricated conclusions, if we could stop needing to prove anything and delight in pursuing the clues.

 

William J. O’Malley, S.J., teaches English and religious studies at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y. This is an excerpt from his newest book, "Help My Disbelief"(Orbis).  

SINGAPORE – To prepare for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that fell on Jan 18-25, two talks on Jan 8 and 17 offering the views of a Catholic priest and a Methodist minister respectively were organized by different groups in the Singapore archdiocese, drawing around 100 participants.Father Frans de Ridder gave a talk titled "Christian Unity: Will we ever be united?" held at CANA – The Catholic Centre. The talk focused on the history of the Church’s brokenness and how Christians can realistically move towards unity.

Quoting from a wide variety of sources including the documents from the Second Vatican Council, leaders of other faiths, and anecdotes, Father Frans guided those present away from "using theologies to hit at each other", and to "be like Christ and have God’s presence, to share the same life". In order to achieve this, he suggested turning to the practice of meditation.

"It was very enlightening because Father Frans mentioned different approaches to ecumenism," said Carmelita Leow, 21, President of the Catholic Students’ Society at the National University of Singapore.

"It was an eye-opener," said Cynthia Choo, a full-time pastor with Paya Lebar Methodist Church. "The talk gave a message to stay alert and understand the heart of God. It has been 100 years since the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity but things are still moving slowly."

Rev Dr Daniel Koh, a full-time faculty member of Trinity Theological College, had been invited by Scheut Missions to give a talk on ecumenism and Christianity from a Methodist viewpoint, at the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Rev Dr Daniel provided insight on the history of relations between Catholics and Methodists, how the Methodist church has been engaging in dialogue with other denominations, how the Methodist church in Singapore has contributed to Christian unity, and the lack of effort on the part of Catholics and other Christians in Singapore to engage in dialogue.

"Hard as I try to look for strong evidence of relations between Methodists and Catholics, I can’t," Rev Dr Daniel said. "One strong reason could be that many local Christians are first-generation Christians formed by para-church organizations. Many of these organizations hold a negative view of the Roman Catholic Church."

"There is now less resistance to ecumenical activities. I see some small sparks of grace," he said. "Perhaps with external pressures from the fast pace of changes in the world, we will come together more often, to give a common response to issues such as those in the life sciences."

"I now have a better understanding of the Methodist view of the Catholic faith," said Steven Tan, 70, from Church of St. Francis of Assisi. "Such events build bridges to connect people of the different denominations." - By Regina Xie

SINGAPORE – About 150 religious leaders and laypeople from various denominations made a statement in support of Christian unity by gathering on Jan 21 for a prayer service at Barker Road Methodist Church.

Christians came together during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for the service that was led by representatives from the Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Mar Thoma, Orthodox Christian, Salvation Army and Roman Catholic faith traditions.

The representatives took turns to preside over different parts of the service, which included hymns, readings, intercessions and a sermon based on John 17:6-21, in which Jesus prayed for all Christians to be one.

"We declare one Lord, one faith, one baptism," proclaimed Rev Malcolm Tan, pastor-in-charge of Barker Road Methodist Church. "Ecumenism and mission cannot be separated," he said. "We should not think that we can promote one without the other."

Besides reciting the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer together, participants were also encouraged to move around to exchange the sign of peace during the service.

"It was different from Mass," said Jerome Leon, a Jesuit novice, "though there were moments which were common, like the Creed and the readings".

Another Jesuit novice from East Timor, Sylvester De Jesus said, "The service was very good. You can’t find this in other countries like East Timor where it’s 99 percent Catholic."

"It was really non-denominational," said Mildred Ong, a member of the Barker Road Methodist Church. She had attended the service with her friend Margaret Loong from the Church of St. Ignatius, who observed that the attention of the participants was on the service, not the divisions between the different denominations.

"I think we should have more of such events over the year," said Father John-Paul Tan, OFM, parish priest of Church of St. Mary of the Angels, adding that he might have plans for his parish to be more involved in ecumenical activities.

The event was organized by the Committee for Ecumenical Movement (CEM) of the Archdiocesan Council for Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED), a council started by Archbishop Nicholas Chia in response to the exhortations of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to further relations with people of other faith traditions.

The CEM had collaborated with the different Christian representatives for the first of two prayer services. The second was held at the Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh on Wednesday Jan 23.

Since 1968, such prayer services have been conducted annually worldwide during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has been commemorated since 1907.

 

 

 

"We wanted to have the services in different areas of Singapore so that more people could attend them," said Sister Elisabeth Lim, RGS, who was part of the CEM and had coordinated the event with others including Therese Huang from Church of St. Ignatius and Sister Susan, FMDM.

Sister Elizabeth noted that there were already groups in the archdiocese involved in ecumenism, such as the Taize prayer group and Christian meditation groups, which encourage Christians, and even Muslims and Buddhists, to come together to meditate.

"CEM will look at suggestions on how ecumenical dialogue can be continued. We will also be on the lookout for people who are interested in helping us bring greater awareness of the ecumenical movement amongst Christians," Sister Elizabeth said.

Those interested to find out more about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity can visit its 2008 website at http://www.weekofprayer2008.org/index.html. - By Regina Xie