Our four new shepherds. Photo: VITA Images

Archbishop: bare essentials celebration is a reminder of the life of a priest

Victoria Lim

Sept 14, 2020, the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, will be a day forever remembered in the history books of the Church in Singapore. This joyous occasion saw Deacons Justin Yip (Diocesan); Emmanuel Teo, OCD (Order of Carmelites, Discalced); Mark Ma, CDD(Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord) and Luke Zhang, CDD ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

An ordination like no other

This day also marked the first time a priestly ordination was held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Stripped down to its bare essentials, a day which would normally have been celebrated in much splendour involving throngs of faithful, only saw a small gathering of family and friends. The celebration took only 80 minutes, which could otherwise have run into 2 1/2 hours followed by a reception.

Although the Rite of Ordination to the priesthood had to be adapted to comply with safety measures and guidelines, the essence of the rite was maintained. The difference was that there were no hymns, and parts of the liturgy that were traditionally sung, were said. The newly ordained also vested themselves with their own stoles and the chasubles.

Despite such unprecedented circumstances, His Grace, Archbishop William Goh reminded the soon-to-be fathers that their ordination during the pandemic and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, was truly a reflection of what it means to be a priest.

A call to selfless service and love

“In these extraordinary times, it reminds us that to be a priest means to be stripped of everything in this world, to die to our regard for pleasure and glory, and to attach ourselves only to Christ. And that our primary duty is that of service to the people,” said His Grace. “The greatest joy that you have today is to know that you are called to be a priest of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Addressing the deacons in this homily, the Archbishop called on them to be humble priests. He stressed that only by being meek would they be able to have a compassionate heart for others. “The real joy of the priesthood comes when you start serving the people, touching lives and bringing hope to those who have none,” said His Grace.


Thoughts from the new priests

Indeed, the scaled down Rite of Ordination was a stark visual of humility and total dependence on God. For Frs Luke and Mark, that sacrifice meant that their family and relatives from China could not attend this momentous milestone in their lives due  to  existing  travel  restrictions.

Fr Justin Yip said, “Being ordained on this feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is very meaningful to me. It reminds me that I have dedicated my life to be a priest that is both victim and sacrifice.”

Focusing on the subdued nature of the ordination, Fr Emmanuel shared, “I’m very thankful actually that the ordination took place with such great simplicity. It was equally efficacious without the usual pomp, and I’m very happy that everyone can participate virtually from wherever they are.”

This was certainly so, with more than 20,000 people tuning in to the livestream from all over the world, from as far away as the United Kingdom. Noting the absence of more faithful, His Grace encouraged and assured the newly ordained that the People of God, near and wide, were praying for them as they began their priestly ministry.

“This is just the beginning, look forward to the real celebration on your silver jubilee of the priesthood!”

Rejoicing of family and friends

“We would like to encourage him to serve with humility and turn to God and Mother Mary to lead him. If he encounters any difficulties, to spend more time with the Lord. He is never alone as Jesus and Mother Mary are always with him, and he will be in our daily prayers too,” said Ivan and Irene Yip, parents of Fr Justin.

Sr Rose Low, FDCC (Canossian Daughters of Charity) who was tearing and simply overwhelmed by what she felt was “a very prayerful occasion,” said of Fr Emmanuel, “I am just so proud and happy for my nephew. He is the fruit of a strong spiritual tree – the prayers of my mother (his grandmother) are very powerful.” She spoke for Fr Emmanuel’s mother Helena too, who was virtually speechless with joy.

Joseph Gao, a CDD seminarian, expressed his hope: “I pray that more will pray for them. I want them to know that they are not alone in this, that they have the Lord and the people praying for them. May they persevere and not give up till their last breath.”

“I am grateful that even during these trying times, God continues to bestow on the Church, the gift of priestly shepherds to be faithful ministers of his word and sacraments. Their witness is a sign of joyful hope and an invitation to us to put our faith into action in serving God and our sisters and brothers,” said Dominic Hoh with much delight, he is a CDD seminarian.

We praise and thank God for having made history and for blessing us with four new priests. Let us continue to pray for Fr Justin Yip; Fr Emmanuel Teo, OCD; Fr Mark Ma, CDD; Fr Luke Zhang, CDD that they might be holy and humble priests, after the heart of God.

St Laurent Imbert, good shepherd who laid down your life for your flock, pray for these our new shepherds!

For the record: The last time four deacons were raised to the Presbyterate in the Cathedral was on Jan 26, 1964. It gave the Church Fathers Philip Kolandaisamy, Aloysius Doraisamy, Robert Balhetchet and Emeritus Archbishop Nicholas Chia. (The last time a priest was ordained in the Cathedral was Fr Cyril Lee in 1966).

Click HERE to find out more about our newly ordained priests!