JANUARY 20, 2008, Vol 58 No. 2

SINGAPORE – The second batch of lay counsellors have graduated from a one-year lay counselling course conducted by Family Life Society and are now ready to be deployed in parishes where they will provide a listening ear to those who may find life difficult, confusing or painful.

The 21 counsellors received their certificates of achievement and counselling from Archbishop Nicholas Chia on Dec 22, 2007.

The course includes theoretical inputs, role play and clinical supervision.

"I hope that the skills I acquired can be put into actual service to those who approach us for help," said newly commissioned lay counsellor Leny Januar, 42.

With this new batch, one-third of the parishes in Singapore can now be served.

Counselling is now available at the following churches: Holy Family, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, St. Anne’s, St. Vincent de Paul, Risen Christ, St. Bernadette, St. Anthony, St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Sacrament, St. Joseph (Bukit Timah), and also at CANA the Catholic Centre.

Call 6382 0688 for time and availability or visit www.familylife.sg for latest updates. n

I WATCHED A young mother of three-year-old twins separate her boys with the stern words, "It is not nice to hit your brother. Hitting hurts. If you want the toy, you may not hit; ask for it nicely and wait until his turn is up." There was frustration in her voice as if she had tried to teach this lesson unsuccessfully many times before.

Parenting takes patience and persistence. Correcting children’s behaviour sometimes feels like a thankless and ineffectual task. It seems that when one misbehaviour is overcome another replaces it.

Parents get tired and sometimes want to give up! But parents’ constant efforts to correct children’s behaviour actually bring the good news of Jesus Christ into their lives and into the world. That’s an awesome and lifelong job!

Effective discipline in the home is essential for children who want to succeed in school, in work and in all of life! Most importantly, it is basic faith formation for children. Teaching siblings to resolve their conflicts by talking, patience and negotiation is giving them the skills to be peacemakers.

Becoming peacemakers is one of the essential characteristics of Christian behaviour as outlined in the Eight Beatitudes.

The Sermon on the Mount is about molding character, and that fits naturally into the intricate web of relationships and activities of family life. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Eight Beatitudes are followed by Jesus’ words to his followers that they are to be a "light" to the world. Families too have the intimate and day-to-day opportunity to shape one another in those characteristics which make both good citizens and exemplary Christians who bring Gospel living into the world.

Every member of the family has the opportunity now and then to practise being merciful to one another, for example. Most children have a natural stroke of mercy inside them. I was impressed to see a kindergarten boy hand over his own helium balloon to his little brother when the wind blew the brother’s away.

Becoming a merciful person is learned early in life, long before formal religious education begins.

The family is usually the first place one encounters death. It seems paradoxical that those who are mourning could be blessed or "highly favoured" as one beatitude says. Facing loss, death and disappointment with courage and trust in God’s providence is part of the essential character of being a Christian.

When my own small children observed my grief at the death of my mother years ago, they learned that grief could be tempered by our faith in Mom’s eternal reward in the presence of Jesus who is with us in our sorrow.

Adults and children alike learn this through the example and counsel of parents and close family members before they have studied or memorized the Eight Beatitudes in school.

Teaching the Eight Beatitudes at home is not something extra added on to a parent’s already overloaded schedule. Resisting evil and becoming pure of heart are lessons woven into the fabric of everyday encounters, learned first by observation, almost by osmosis!

Catholic tradition sees the home as the "domestic church" because children and parents alike learn to "thirst for justice" and be "poor in spirit" long before formal religious formation begins.

Research in child development reveals that children’s values are established to a great extent in the first five years of life. Parents and grandparents along with other significant adults pass on the beatitudes by being honest in their relationships, treating and speaking to one another respectfully, avoiding racist and degrading comments about others, and resolving conflicts through communication instead of violence.

Families can never do this perfectly. We can only make daily efforts at becoming disciples in the way the beatitudes suggest. But with every effort every day, with each encounter between parents and children, a ray of light and a grain of salt are brought into the world.

It is no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus encourages his followers: "Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (5:16). - By Mary Jo Pedersen

Forty-five youthful participants from various Singapore parishes went to Pattaya, Thailand on a Redemptorist Overseas Mission Experience (R.O.M.E.) last December to minister at institutions run by the Redemptorists - orphanage, schools for the blind and deaf, children's home, vocational school for the disabled and outreach to street kids. The Singaporean youth were nourished mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by the experience.

WHILE MINISTERING TO the children, many of us wondered why they were abandoned and subjected to such injustice. Some of us were most moved at the orphanage when we experienced abandonment and acceptance whilst giving and receiving love.

“When I first entered the orphanage, I faced a rejection and felt upset,” recalled Cherlynn Ang, 16. “But I found consolation in prayer.”

As we were on a mission to teach and to give of ourselves, we were surprised to find that we were the ones being reached out to and evangelized, and we learned a lesson on unconditional love.

Babies with their outstretched arms gazed at us as we entered the nursery and, at that moment, we saw how much they needed that human touch and close contact that the nannies were unable to give.

On becoming emotionally attached to a baby after a day at the orphanage, many of us expected to return to the same relationship later. However, when some babies did not remember or chose to ignore us, we felt abandoned too.

Unconditional love is the giving of love regardless of who the recipient is. It does not matter if the baby does not return to you because the mission is not about loving one baby but the giving of love to one and all. This we learnt from Father Simon Pereira who advised that “acceptance is loving another baby and letting go of the attachment that one feels with a single baby. More essentially, we have to learn to understand that someone else is equally capable of providing the same amount of love that I would to the child, no matter how difficult or how much it hurts.”

Holding the child and watching the child fall asleep in one's arms, singing a soft lullaby to soothe her, truly melts one's heart. The security and comfort that the child found in us reminded us of the way affluence has marred the simplicity of love in a relationship because it was only at Pattaya that we really discovered what it means to love.

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A small group of us interacted with Thai youth at the Redemptorist Outreach Work for Street Kids and fostered a close relationship with them.

Our friendship with them was strong despite the language barrier; we found understanding in each other through gestures and having fun together. The Thai youth evoked shame in us because we often take our homes for granted while they had nothing and had turned to the drop-in centre to keep off the streets.

“The ministries really touched me, not because of the insights or contrast to the life that we're used to, but by the enormous amount of love that you discover in your heart,” reflected Rachel Goh, 16.

On one occasion, we took the blind children to the beach – a rather long walk – and it was then that we forged a friendship of trust with the children.

“I was amazed that the blind boy trusted me completely and allowed me to lead him to the beach, knowing that, somehow, I would bring him there safely,” said Trini Tan, 16. “It was amazing seeing him joyful, just sitting on the sand and feeling the waves. It made me think of how I was never appreciative of what I had.”

During an excursion to McDonalds with the deaf children, Rebecca Wong, 22, recollected that “there was a child who became very attached to me. From the moment he boarded the bus to the time he got back to the orphanage, he did not want to let go of me.

During lunch, he only had four pieces of nuggets but he still offered me one. A guilty pang hit me. With the abundance I had, I was rather calculative when giving; but this child, with so little, was very generous. Seeing them satisfied with the little possessions they had made me realize that I was caught up in materialistic ways, to the extent that I forgot how to be appreciative of the little things I had. Through this experience, I learnt that true happiness is being able to enjoy the moments and things that I have, and not demand for more.”

The visit is over. People might ask if we have achieved much of lasting value for the children we ministered to. That does not really matter. For, in the words of the late Father Raymond Brennan, founder of the Father Ray Foundation: “Do not worry if you can't give the best to every child, you have given your very best.”

The spirit of love and evangelization continues to burn within us. The dream goes on – R.O.M.E. in Singapore. This is our post-mission challenge. By Rebecca Wong, Trini Tan and Rachel Goh

THE IDEA OF going on a mission trip, conceived in March 2007, was to let the youth have an experience of what it is like to live simply. At Wiang Kaen in Chiang Rai, the students did not have the usual comforts, but they still found immense joy in being where they were.

The mission centre where the teachers and students lived and worked was set up some 17 years ago by Father Paul Anurak Prachongkit, a Thai missionary and Sister Bernard Pranee Trithara, an Infant Jesus nun. The centre was set up to provide support for children from the Hmong and Mien tribes by giving them an opportunity to receive an education.

Starting off with a rustic hut, "divine providence" – as Sister Bernard calls it – has over time, made possible dormitories and proper sanitation facilities for the children. The centre now provides for the education, food and lodging of 56 children.

Prior to the trip, the IJ students and teachers combined efforts to raise funds for the centre. They spent three weekends at Church of the Risen Christ, Church of St. Vincent de Paul and Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah) respectively to sell handicrafts such as bookmarks, pouches and greeting cards – all handmade by the children at the mission centre. Parishoners from these churches were supportive and gave generously. Their fundraising in school was well-supported by the staff and students.

During the trip, the participants engaged in various activities which gave them an insight into what it means to live a simple life. They planted vegetables, harvested rice in the fields of a local family, visited the rural schools, got a taste of life in a tribal village and spent some time bringing cheer to the youth at the mission centre.

It was remarkable how the students, despite the language barrier, reached out to the Thai children. As the days unfolded, the universal gestures of smiles and hugs became the predominant mode of communication and the universal values of friendship, love and joy their sustenance.

During personal quiet time, reflections and group sharing, much of what was going on in the depths of each participant was revealed. Each of them realized that all persons possessed within themselves a human capacity to love and reach out to those in need. As they gathered the rice stalks in the fields, they expressed their appreciation for every grain of rice they ate. As they reached out to the children and villagers, they were awakened to the fact that every human person – regardless of culture – was their fellow brother or sister in Christ. As they lived in simple conditions, they realised their ability to adapt to any situation as long as they tried.

The group had informally made the Prayer of St. Francis their theme song of the trip and true to their vocations as IJ students and educators, they learnt what it really means to live a life that is Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty. - By Michelle Tan

Snippets from the students

"I learnt that with so little, and with such simplicity, the kids were able to fully enjoy themselves. Whereas, we, who have so much more (materially) are never content."

– Annabelle Fernandez

 

"It amazed me how simply the children led their life but yet they were so much spiritually happier than us... I learnt that the simple things in life can be so beautiful and much more meaningful than high technological stuff like TV or computer."

– Mellissa Lim

 

"Seeing the kids made me realize how complicated our lives are, with all the scheming and backstabbing. The kids taught me to love everyone around me. They appreciate every little thing they have around them and their lives are so simple and carefree."

– Marilyn Tan

 

"We all learned how to plant vegetables and how hard the children have to work to feed themselves. I believe this helped all of us to understand that the food that we eat does not come easy and it probably comes from people like these children who have to start planting at such a young age."

– Shermaine Ng

 

"Here in Singapore, we may complain about our parents and about not having what we want. We are totally unaware of the fact that we are actually living in a lap of luxury compared to the people there. Most could not even afford to buy even the cheapest item they want; they have to consider what they can live without."

– Maetzy Tan

WHEN VISITING KRUNG Jor refugee camp at the Thai-Burmese border, beware the black sesame rice cakes. Dipped in sugar, these crispy and chewy snacks are highly addictive.

At first, I felt guilty for finishing the cakes every time our bowls were refilled. The refugees are not well-off, and every bite I took meant one less for them. Their happy and thankful expressions, however, helped to ease my conscience.

Yes, the refugees have many material needs, but far more important to them is their pride and dignity as hosts. By accepting their hospitality, I acknowledged them as friends and equals – and I believe they treasure such respect far more than money or gifts.

The generosity with which the refugees welcome their visitors also proves a point. They might have lost their homes, possessions and way of life, but they remain a loving community who are happy to share the little they have.

The 600 refugees at Krung Jor camp are from the Shan tribe, one of many ethnic minority groups who have fled violence and exploitation in Burma. Most of the refugees were peaceful farmers who were caught in the crossfire when the Burmese military fought against rebel armies. 140,000 refugees now live in official camps in Thailand, but there are thousands more, including the Shan, who are not recognized by the Thai government.

Last November, 10 volunteers from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Singapore and Christ the King parish visited the camp as part of a joint project to support the refugees. While JRS provides them with clothes, electricity and other basic necessities, we also stress the importance of accompaniment – getting to know the refugees and journeying with them as friends. Such personal visits matter and show them that someone cares.

As the refugees are not allowed to work outside the camps, JRS assists them in setting up income-generating projects such as the weaving of native handicraft. During this visit, we were pleased to see that the looms we financed were being put to good use. Being able to engage in productive work is immensely satisfying for them – it restores some normalcy to their lives and contributes to their self-sufficiency. The refugees also lack medical attention as they live in isolated hill areas. The clinic we helped to set up is running smoothly, but does not have the technology and expertise to combat complicated illnesses. One lady died of breast cancer just three months ago; with proper screening and therapy, she might have survived. In contrast, Burmese leader Than Shwe was treated at Singapore General Hospital this year. Unfortunately, the victims of his policies do not enjoy the same quality of care.

The youth at the camp study hard, just like ours (I hope). The books and educational VCDs which we bring them are always much appreciated. However, while most of us can attain a tertiary or university education, the refugee youth face an uncertain future. Without identification documents, they cannot go to Thai schools, or work in the cities. If they return to Burma, they risk being killed by landmines or soldiers.

Despite these dismal prospects, the refugee youth are full of joy, laughter, and kindness. I recall seeing some of the older ones giving up their places on the school bus to the smaller children – a simple act, but one which led me to question if I would have done the same.

While JRS has been able to help many Burmese refugees in Thailand, the situation remains fragile. This September, we witnessed the military government’s horrifying crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. Till today, thousands are missing and many are expected to have fled across the border as refugees. Until the Myanmar government ends its human rights abuses, people will continue to come to the camps, and they will need our help.

To find out more about the plight of the refugees and how you can help, visit the JRS Singapore website at www.jrssingapore.org. -By Jeremy Lim