The Cenacle Sisters share about their ministry, mission in Singapore over the past 20 years

The Cenacle Sisters are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their mission in Singapore in July this year. From left: Srs Mel Benedictos, Francisca Tan, Linda Lizada and Christine Lam.

TO work for the transformation of lives through an awakening and deepening of the faith, that is really what the Cenacle mission is about, says Cenacle Sr Francisca Tan.

“What we hope to achieve is to really help people grow in their relationship with God,” she said.

Sr Francisca, together with fellow Cenacle Srs Linda Lizada, Mel Benedictos and Christine Lam spoke to CatholicNews about the work of the Cenacle ministry in Singapore as they look forward to their 20th anniversary in July.

The “Cenacle” refers to the Upper Room where a few historic events took place in the Gospel: These were the Last Supper, the place where the disciples returned after Jesus’ Ascension, and where the Holy Spirit appeared to them on Pentecost. It was from there that the apostles went forth with boldness proclaiming the Gospel.

“That was perhaps the first ‘prototype’ of a retreat,” said Sr Mel. “The disciples were looking for direction in their ministry and found it through prayer and the Holy spirit.”

A big part of the Cenacle ministry involves organising retreats for people from different walks of life.

Sr Francisca speaking to participants of the At Home retreat.

Some programmes integrate the sacred and secular, the psychological and spiritual, while others provide a more quiet setting, “one with a contemplative atmostphere for people to pray and reflect on their lives”, said Sr Christine.

One of the more popular ones is the Quieting the Soul retreat – a silent retreat that “allows participants to spend time with God and listen to His voice,” said Sr Mel.

During the retreat, usually held for five or eight days, a spiritual director will journey with participants to help guide them in their prayer life.

According to the Sisters, this retreat first started in 2005 and is held about a twice a year at Chiang Mai, Thailand, and other countries in the region. “We have it overseas because sometimes people just want some quiet time and peace to get away from their realities,” said Sr Linda.

The Sisters also cited the At Home retreat as a popular programme. Using the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola as a guide, the programme is held over 10 weeks and includes a weekly meeting of faith sharing and daily prayer using Scripture.

The prayer room in the Cenacle House.

Most retreats organised by the Cenacle Sisters are usually attended by participants in their mid 40s to early 60s. With this in mind, Sr Christine decided to organise retreats for young adults as she felt that “there was perhaps a gap in our outreach.”

Those between the ages of 21 and 40 are invited to attend these retreats which includes morning and evening prayer sessions, faith sharing and spiritual direction.

Through fun and leisure activities, the retreats, held at a beach resort, aim to allow participants to find God in all things.

A room in the Cenacle House for individuals seeking spiritual direction.

Mr Rodger Mok, 70, who has attended the Quieting the Soul retreat every year since 2007, said, “What brings me to their retreats is the attentiveness of the spiritual directors and their practical approach. Also, the tranquility of the retreat centre ensures an ambience for deep prayer and reflection.”

Ms Marilyn Uy recalled her experience after attending a retreat titled Praying Our Crossroads.

“It was a grace-filled weekend that allowed me to appreciate God’s abiding love and wisdom. It allowed me to take time and reflect on how much God has blessed me,” she said. “The retreat also made me realise that even during the most difficult moments of my life, God was there and He carried me through.”

BESIDES holding retreats, “we also have individuals coming to us for spiritual direction, guidance and spiritual healing,” said Sr Francisca.

She shared that these people are usually “going through a difficult time in their life and need guidance to help them take stock of everything.”

“What we do first is we chit-chat with them to understand their issues” and if they wish, they are invited to spend a few days in the Cenacle house “to receive spiritual direction and guidance,” said Sr Christine, adding that both men and women are welcome.

The work of the Cenacle Sisters over the past 20 years has also seen them ministering in parishes as well as to Catholic institutions.

According to the Sisters, they are often invited to conduct sessions for the RCIA in parishes as well as retreats for different church ministries. They work with institutions such as Clarity Singapore, the Catholic Centre, migrant communities and also give talks to seminarians.

Sr Mel speaking to an individual during a spiritual direction session.

“At the end of the day, our hope is to support others who are in search of a greater and deeper meaning in their lives,” said Sr Linda.

The Sisters are currently in the midst of fundraising for a new home and have already organised a few events including a funfair held last year at the Church of St Ignatius.

The current Cenacle House, located in Jurong, has been the home of the Sisters since the community was set up in Singapore on July 7, 1997.

According to their website, the Cenacle Sisters were founded in La Louvesc, France, in 1826 by St Thérèse Couderc and Fr Stephen Terme.

For more information about the Cenacle Sisters, visit

By Jared Ng
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