“When I look back on my 25 years as a priest, I reflect: I have the knowledge of philosophy, theology, Canon Law, liturgy, scripture, homiletics, pastoral field and of building the church. But if I were to speak without love and act without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing, then I am nothing at all.
Since my seminary days, I have been ambitious for the higher gifts. My motto is ‘love one another as I have loved you’. I have tried very hard to put it in practice. At times I succeed, at times I fail. Till this day, I am still trying and praying for God’s help. Please pray for me ...
As the world is lacking in love, let us be instruments of God’s love as Jesus himself commanded.”
– Father John Sim, writing in his Sacerdotal Silver Jubilee commemorative book.
Father John Sim celebrated 25 years of the priesthood recently. The parish priest at Church of the Risen Christ is well known as a church-builder (both the physical structure and the community), for having a special love for the old and sick, and for his desire to live as Jesus taught, that is, to “love one another as I have loved you”, writes Joyce Gan
THOSE WHO KNOW him well, especially his fellow priests, say he is loving, unassuming and diligent, and always has been.
Rector at the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary Father William Goh said, “Since the first day I met him in the seminary, I have always known him as a man with a compassionate, kind and magnanimous heart, especially for the poor and the unfortunate. This is the most outstanding quality I have found in him. ... Even when he meets with difficulties or when he is misunderstood, I find him a person who has the virtue of perseverance and fortitude to continue to do the right thing even when it is not a popular thing. He is someone who is not vindictive towards those who have hurt him but always forgiving.”
Father Andrew Wong, parish priest at Church of the Holy Spirit agrees. He met Father John Sim for the first time some 28 years ago at the former regional seminary in Penang. There he saw Father John Sim step calmly between two brother seminarians who were fighting and “his unassuming nature brought peace and reconciliation between the two brothers, who today are priests themselves”.
Father John Sim has come a long way since the seminary days but the desire to love others continues, as is evident in his passion and motivation to build the church, in both the physical and community aspects.
Church of St. Francis Xavier was rebuilt by him in 1996, just before the Asian financial crisis, to meet the needs of an increasing parish population.
Seminarian Brother Jude David, who was a young boy at the parish then, remembers the sprucing up of the sanctuary, the erection of Our Lady’s Grotto, the setting up of Mount Tabor Adoration Room and a new canteen. What impressed him then was how these developments reflected Father John Sim’s “commitment to the liturgical worship of the community, the centrality of devotion to our Eucharistic Lord and our Blessed Mother for the spiritual renewal of the parishioners”. The addition of a comfortable canteen for the gathering of parishioners aided the communal dimension of the parish, he added.
Father John Sim ensured that the new facilities were friendly to the then elderly Father Louis Fossion, who was living at the St. Francis Xavier parish. A specially-designed unit on the ground floor with an office, bedroom and ensuite bathroom was built to meet his needs. Before Father Fossion, Father John Sim had also cared for the late Father Magnin in his old age till his death.
This love for the elderly and sick and the poor led Father John Sim to set up the Free Legal Clinic, Free Medical Clinic and Counselling service in the Risen Christ parish shortly after he became parish priest in 2005.
Redemptorist Father Simon Pereira recalled that during frequent visits to home of parishioners, Father John Sim had “seen so much of their pain and anguish – many of them could not even afford to visit the doctor” – and soon after, the free clinics were set up.
Father John Sim wants to continue building the church community that he already has, continuing what he has started such as the Faith Renewal, Exploration and Evangelisation group formed recently, youth development programmes, Small Christian Communities that are flourishing and the Parish Renewal Experience launched this year.
All these accomplishments and his 25 years as a priest “would not have been possible if not for God’s unconditional love and grace,” he said. “Throughout my priesthood, God has sent countless people, both young and old, to guide, nurture and mould me. My heart is filled with gratitude and praise.”
? Nobody in Father John Sim’s family expected him to become a priest as he was “always attracting the attention of the opposite sex”, according to his sister Christina.
? Father John Sim did not always speak English well. He studied at Catholic High School and Maris Stella High School where English was taught as a second language. Because teaching was in English in the seminary he struggled with his studies, and he had to repeat his studies while his fellow seminarians moved on to the Major Seminary. Thankfully, the late Archbishop Gregory Yong saw his potential and sent him to study English with the De La Salle Brothers for one year, which solved his language problem.
? He sang the romantic ballad “Dream” on the evening of the blessing of the new St. Francis Xavier church. To him, “it was a song about a dream I had cherished... to do something with the people to build or at least to rebuild a church”.
? His favourite song is “Friends” by Emil Chau.