Fr Eugene with SSVP volunteers manning the shop.

Victoria Lim

After five years of faithful service and dedication as parish priest of the Church of the Holy Family, Father Eugene Vaz retired from active ministry when he reached the age of 75 this year.

But rather than live a sedentary retirement life, he now devotes his Sunday mornings between 10 am and 12 pm at the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP) shop at 501, Geylang Road, where he shares his insights with shoppers on the Vincentian spirituality and the Catholic faith.

“It’s been two weeks since I have begun my time here and there has been a steady stream of people who have come to receive blessings and to have their questions answered,” said Fr Vaz in a joyful and booming voice which filled the second storey meeting room.

Fr Vaz, who has been the Society’s spiritual director since 2013, hopes to also get to know the Vincentian volunteers who take turns to man the shop. “Before Covid-19 hit, I had made plans to spend more time with members of the 30 conferences in Singapore, but I guess I’ll have to make do for now,” he said. He also looks forward to seeing more Catholics bring their non-Catholic friends to the shop. “Come armed with all your challenging questions about the faith!” he exclaimed.

The spiritual director is also looking at ways to make these meet-up sessions on Sunday mornings more fruitful to those who come. Working with the Vincentians, he is looking at having Bible reflection and sharing or even talks.

The local chapter of the SSVP was formed in 1951. Following its founding in Singapore, other conferences were started in different parishes throughout the diocese. Today, there are more than 700 Vincentians serving in 30 conferences all over Singapore supporting more than 2100 low-income families.

Under the patronage of St Vincent de Paul who is known for his charity and compassion for the poor, the Vincentian spirituality rests on two basic principles: continuing prayer and meeting Christ through the poor.

Sharing some of his thoughts on the Vincentian spirituality in light of the poor today, Fr Vaz said: “I’m reminded of chapter two of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli tutti, which relates the story of the Good Samaritan, who was the only one who cared enough to stop and to give not only his money but his time, one full day, to care for the stranger who was assaulted by bandits.”

Fr Vaz went on to explain that this is precisely how all Vincentians are taught to care for the poor. “We don’t just give money to the poor. During home visits, Vincentian social workers and volunteers sit with families and listen and tend to their other needs, be they intellectual, emotional or spiritual,” he continued, “Life’s problems are not just solved by giving money – sometimes what people simply want from us is our friendship and encouragement.”

In spite of all that is going on in the world today, it was truly a morning well spent with this enlightened and beloved pastor, whose love for the poor resonates beyond the four walls of the two-storey shophouse.

Come and meet Fr Vaz at the SSVP shop and find out how you can support the work of SSVP by visiting www.ssvpsingapore.org.

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