The music directors, Saint Max crew and the four priests (L to R: Fra Derrick, Fr Luke, Fr Valerian and Fr Kamelus) after a recording session at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Photo: Patrick Theng

Bernard Lim

Christmas Ignite, a virtual Christmas concert to jumpstart Catholic200SG, the 200th anniversary of the Catholic Church in Singapore, premiered on YouTube, Facebook and CatholicSG Radio at 11pm on Dec 24, before the Midnight Mass celebrated by Archbishop William Goh at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

When I was first asked to host Christmas Ignite 2020 two months ago, I could scarcely hide my delight and joy to work with the many priests, religious, and lay people who came forward, putting aside their secular work commitments to focus on doing God’s work and making the concert a success.

In the spotlight

The evening’s 40-minute programme began with a very charming and earnest handbell rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by the Children’s Choir of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. When they burst into song, joined by members of the Cathedral Choir of St Gregory the Great, the theme of the evening “Jesus, the reason for the season” came alive. This hymn is one of my favourites, and I could really feel the Holy Spirit’s presence during the chorus as lights were carried into the church.

The next hymn, “O Holy Night”, first written in 1847 by a French poet, was also another highlight for me. We dedicated it to St Laurent Imbert, the French MEP missionary who first brought Catholicism to our shores. It was sung in both English and French by our quartet of “singing priests” comprising Fr Valerian Cheong, Fr Luke Fong, Friar John Derrick Yap OFM, Fr Kamelus Kamus CICM, and religious Brother Jean-Gabriel Pophillat OP – a Singaporean – who recorded himself singing from the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. It was a competent and spiritually uplifting performance for me.

The tempo became more upbeat with the Church of the Risen Christ’s Christus Laudatur Voce Choir’s rendition of “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow” reminiscent of a Broadway jazz number inviting listeners to follow the star of Bethlehem, just like the shepherds. This was followed by the Church of St Mary of the Angels combined choirs’ “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” from the San Pedro Calungsod Choir of the Church of the Divine Mercy.

Then, there was the very heartfelt tribute to Our Lady, 天上有位好妈妈 or “Mother in Heaven”, sung by Redemptorist Fathers Terence Wee and Eugene Lee, Fr Henry Siew, Fr Peter Zhang CDD, Sr Linda Sim FMDM, and Daughters of St Paul Sisters Theresa Lim, Wendy Ooi and Jocelyn Kwek with members of the Mustard Seed Music Ministry and the Novena Church combined choirs, with Fr Eugene Lee on guitar. You could really see and feel the prayer in their song.

In the penultimate item, the Vita Voxa Choir from the Church of the Sacred Heart, Jakarta sang a musical blessing adapted from the traditional Christmas blessing found in the Book of Common Prayer dating back to the 16th century, delivering God’s comfort to the people through the incarnation of Christ. We were very happy to have our overseas guests with us virtually, because in 2019, they performed here to help raise funds for the Catholic Foundation, and were unable to return in 2020 because of the Covid-19 travel restrictions. They might have been far away physically, but they were certainly very close to us in heart as they blessed us with their beautiful melodic voices.

The moving finale by all performers, a medley of “We Are The Reason” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, really brought home the joyful message of Christmas, that Christ, Emmanuel God-with-us, is truly the reason for the season. They were joined by freelance actor Joshua Lim and preschool teacher Natalie Sayson, both long-serving Catholics in their church choirs and youth ministries, and whom the organisers felt represented young people as the future of the Church.

To sum up Christmas Ignite 2020, Eunice Olsen echoed my sentiments when she said, “It’s been a privilege to be a co-host of Christmas Ignite 2020, and it is really heart-warming to see all the people involved putting in so much energy and effort to ignite our passion for the Lord and inspire us to shine His light for others.”

Behind the scenes

These people were not just the musicians and choral performers, but also the ordinary people from all walks of life who shared their wishes and hopes for Christmas and the New Year in heart-warming snippets that were interspersed throughout the programme, as well as the production crew behind the scenes.

Meeting the film crew from Saint Max, and seeing how its founder and creative director Linus Koh and his team prayed together, was testimony to their close relationship with God. For Linus, “Being the first Catholic200SG event, it is only fitting that, on the Nativity of the Christ-child, we come together as one Church, one Catholic community, to celebrate the gift of our heavenly Father’s only Son. Having received this gift, it is our turn to go forth and pass on this gift of Jesus to others.”

Music Directors Alphonsus Chern and his wife, Angela Lim, added, “We want to thank all the wonderful people involved who gave their time and talent to produce Christmas Ignite 2020. We hope we were able to bring the love and joy of Christmas into homes everywhere.”

As Lawrence Chong from the Catholic200SG Organising Committee shared, “One of the best expressions of Church is when we are able to pool our talents and gifts as a unity for God – Christmas Ignite is such an inspiring experience, what a great gift for Christ!”

Fr Kamelus, who is from Indonesia and has been 10 years in Singapore, identifies especially with Catholic200SG as a missionary priest. “This is a beautiful time despite all that’s happening. It’s a time to Re-Member, to renew our relationship with God as a member the Church, recalling how God has been with us these past 200 years, a beautiful story of faith planted in our land and in our hearts by the missionaries who came here earlier to proclaim the word of God with much sincerity and dedication.”

The Holy Spirit worked wonders for Christmas Ignite 2020. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEkejnTd6HA and be ignited to shine with faith for Catholic200SG in the year ahead!

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